Panama Tries to Help Cuban Refugees

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela is trying to help those Cubans who escape from Cuba find temporary refuge along the Panama -Cost Rica border by building temporary shelters and allowing only Cuban refugees into local hotels while on their way to the United States. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuban refugees are able to gain automatic refugee status in the United States since Cuba became a Communist state. Even with official diplomatic relations having been established between the United States and Cuba, the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place.

The problem is that the Cuban government and its policies are the main cause for the Cuban refugees themselves. Despite some important changes taking place in Cuba, the Cuban economy is still stunted by the failed socialist policies of the past. Many Cubans who want to earn a better living are still having problems setting up their own business, or even basic things as getting enough food and better housing (or housing period) on their home island. Even with a new law allowing Cubans to apply for passports, leaving the island is still fraught with tons of bureaucratic red tape. So those Cubans who are able to leave via countries “friendly” to Cuba is in many cases the only way. If the Cubans escape from these Cuba friendly countries, they most likely will not go back to Cuba. They will suffer serious punishment if they do. However, many South and Central American countries do not want the Cuban refugees on their soil.

This is not unusual because many governments in South and Central America have “good” relations with Cuba and the Cuban government does not want its people to flee Cuba. Panama is no exception. It tries to maintain good relations with Cuba. However, Panama is trying just as hard to maintain good relations with the United States, and does not want to affect its relationship with the United States by kicking the Cubans out. At the same time it does not want the Cuban refugees to remain in Panama, so the compromise is that the Panamanian government allows the Cuban refugees to go through Panama on their way to the United States. For so many Cubans, it is the difference between finding freedom and a better way of life and being forced to remain under a one-party state.

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