Young People Look Abroad
By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA, Apr 18, 2011 (IPS) – While for their parents, leaving Cuba was a
traumatic event because of the impossibility of returning, for younger
generations, "moving abroad" is becoming more and more of a normal
decision, just another alternative for the future.
"I don't think that leaving the country is the only, or the best,
solution," 29-year-old Guillermo Estévez (not his real name) told IPS.
"I have really intelligent friends who have decided to stay and build
their lives here. But I feel like I'm in the middle of a silent wave of
emigration. In the last few years, I have gone through one farewell
Perhaps the reason is that in the early 1980s, the Cuban government
began to allow Cuban exiles to visit their home country, and in the
1990s it began to grant permits for temporary residence abroad. Until
then, leaving the country had been a permanent move, since the 1959
Other aspects are the networks of families and friends who are waiting
to welcome loved ones in other countries; the greater access to
information of all kind that young people today enjoy; and above all,
values and aspirations that put increasing weight on personal fulfilment
and higher living standards.
According to a University of Havana study that includes email testimony
from young Cubans living abroad, the severe economic crisis that hit the
country in the 1990s led to emigration being seen as just another
alternative or possible solution.
For Antonio Aja, an expert on migration issues, the fact that Cubans are
leaving the country at younger and younger ages is a reflection of
conflicts provoked by the crisis and the circumstances among certain
segments of today's youth, including "lack of motivation, disinterest
and scepticism" that they can realise their aspirations in Cuba today.
Although to a lesser extent, Cuba has become, like Mexico, El Salvador
and Nicaragua, a major source of emigrants in Latin America and the
Caribbean. And in line with trends in those and other countries, most of
the migrants are young people, and the proportion of women heading
abroad is growing.
The United Nations regional agency ECLAC reported that in the early
2000s, over 10 percent of the roughly 200 million migrants in the world
were from Latin America and the Caribbean. And more than one million of
the people from this region living outside of their country of origin in
2000 were professionals or skilled workers.
The exodus of skilled workers and university graduates from Cuba grew,
until they represented 12 percent of emigrants between 1995 and 2003,
according to specialised sources. And the average age of emigrants in
2008 was 30.5 years among those who went to live in the United States,
29.1 years (emigrants to Spain) and 26.2 years (emigrants to Italy).
"For me it's a door that has opened, after a number of other doors were
slammed shut," said Estévez, who along with his wife has spent nearly
two years doing the paperwork to move to Canada legally, through a
programme designed to promote immigration of skilled workers to that
"First I applied for a job at a place where I would have had good
economic prospects, and they told me I didn't have enough experience.
Then I was invited to give a conference, and my boss didn't let me
travel because I was too young. It's really frustrating because they
teach you to think and then they don't let you think," he said.
"I'm not leaving Cuba because of economic troubles but because I just
don't see a solution to them in any reasonable lapse of time. I'm 29,
how long do I have to wait?" said Estévez, a graduate in humanities from
the University of Havana, who shares an apartment with his wife,
brother, parents and maternal grandparents.
More "earthly" needs are combined, in his case, with the dream of seeing
other parts of the world – a possibility that is limited in Cuba.
"Having a house and travelling, which seem to be such simple things,
translate into individual independence, the possibility of building a
family, and spiritual and professional development," he said.
The elimination of the exit visa that Cubans need to be able to travel
abroad is one of the demands of Cuban citizens that the government of
Raúl Castro may be in a position to meet; in the current process of
reforms aimed at "updating the socialist model."
"There are young people who would like to emigrate, but what young
people really want is to travel, go to other places, experience them and
be able to come back," sociologist María Isabel Domínguez, the author of
several studies on youth in Cuba, told IPS. "We see that tendency even
among young people from rural areas, where other aspirations have not
yet been met."
Some young people have set their sights on Canada, others have sought to
prove that their grandparents came from Spain, in order to obtain
Spanish citizenship and a European Union passport, some marry someone
from another country to obtain an exit permit, and then there are those
who seek to leave illegally, sometimes by paying people traffickers.
Many of those who obtain exit permits are women between the ages of 21
and 40, while most of those who defected in 2005 were young men and men
between the ages of 15 and 35, with an incomplete or complete high
school education. A large proportion of them were unemployed, and 20
percent had criminal records.
Among the young people who stay in Cuba – who make up a majority of the
total – there are those who have an elderly parent to take care of or
other family obligations, those who lack opportunities to leave, and
those who stay simply because they love their country as it is, with its
flaws and its virtues.
"They always talk about those who leave, and never about those of us who
stay," Niuris Cabrera, a 27-year-old computer expert who fights an
everyday battle in the attempt to get ahead, told IPS. "The ones who
leave long for what they left behind, and we long for what left with
"It is my choice to live in Cuba," she said.