Wet Foot/Dry Foot: It’s complicated

Yesterday afternoon we were greeted with the news that the Obama administration had immediately canceled the “wet foot/dry foot” policy for Cuban migrants and the curious thing is that nobody knows exactly how to react.

One thing is clear, everybody hated the policy. But why?

For one thing it created an arbitrary finish line that migrants could attempt to reach, knowing that if they got there they would be granted legal status in the US, and after one year, permanent residence (a green card). The absurd end of the race was documented many times on Florida beaches and as far north as the Carolinas. Often times migrants would jump off their boats and rafts, making a mad dash for dry land and legal status while police and other officials tried to keep them at bay.

Another thing about wet foot/dry foot is that it instantly created gigantic incentives for human trafficking. Over the years we’ve documented the explosive growth of the migrant smuggling industry. So-called go-fast boats regularly make the run to Cuba to pick up migrants and drop them off in different places near US soil, all for a hefty price that is usually paid by the migrants’ stateside relatives.

But wet foot/dry foot isn’t just about crossing the sea. It’s about the many land journeys taken by Cubans through Latin America, where they are unwelcome, to get to the US border with Mexico where the same finish line could be found.

Literally tens of thousands of Cubans arrive in the US and attain legal status because of wet foot/dry foot annually. That’s over and above the 20,000-25,000 annually that come in an orderly fashion via an annual visa lottery. The result is that for the last twenty years the US has received a veritable uncontrolled flood of Cuban refugees.

For its part, the Castro regime spends a good amount of time denouncing the policy despite the fact that it does draw some benefits. For one thing, it’s clear that the smugglers operate with a wink and a nod from (and probably suitcases full of cash for) regime officials. There is simply no way a militarized country that claims to be constantly on guard for invasion from its “imperialist” neighbor could be blind to the many vessels coming going.  Also, all outward migration from Cuba acts as a pressure escape valve, as the most desperate to leave take desperate measures to leave. A disaffected Cuban dissident is no longer a threat once outside of Cuba.

Still the regime has often denounced wet foot/dry foot and claiming that it is the reason so many Cubans want to leave Cuba, for false promises of streets paved with gold in the United States. Of course those legends have nothing to do with the grinding poverty and hopelessness of the totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba, right?

What bothers me about wet foot/dry foot in addition to the above, is the nature of today’s Cuban migrant. It strikes me that their motivations for coming to the US are no different than migrants from every other country. They simply want a better economic life than their country can currently afford them. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Millions around the world have same dream but they don’t have that finish line to reach. Fundamental fairness dictates that there be a uniform policy toward economic migrants from the various Latin American countries. That’s not to say that there aren’t still legitimate political exiles coming but, from what I’ve read, the procedures to achieve political asylum remain unchanged.

The truth is that most wet foot/dry foot beneficiaries aren’t anti-Castro. Most are actually apolitical. A lot of them end up being crooks and lowlifes, Che Guevara’s new man. Many return to Cuba on vacation as soon as they get their green cards. And they do so loaded with cash and duffel bags of stuff bought at places like ¡ño que barato! As Val Prieto has often noted, the Castro regime’s most profitable export is Cubans. So not only are most of these dry foot migrants not opposed to the regime, they are loyal customers of Castro, Inc.

In any case, the policy has been in place for two decades and everyone hates it. But now it seems everyone hates a change in the status quo.

My issue with the change is that I feel like there’s something we do not yet know. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I suspect, based on the many unilateral concessions that the Obama administration has made to Raul Castro over the last two years, that somehow the regime managed to position an end to wet foot/dry foot as a concession on THEIR end. Which would mean that they get a concession from the United States in return. An easy two for none for the regime.

The other thing that’s hard to reconcile is that Obama’s new policies toward Cuba have actually led to increased repression on the island (since the U.S. has shown no sign of challenging the regime or expecting different conduct) and increased outward migration. And now the administration is closing the door. There’s an incongruity there.

I am very suspect of anything Obama does regarding Cuba. He’s proven that he’s a sympathizer and not a critic of the regime. That said, because the wet foot/foot dry foot policy was so absurd and flawed that I am happy it’s gone.

As to what happens next, we’ll just have to see as the biggest wild card of all, Donald Trump, gets inaugurated. On Cuba, like on virtually every other issue, nobody knows what US policy will look like going forward. We can only pray for the best.