By Carlos Alberto Montaner
The image of the 21st century is that of fleeing multitudes.
Who can forget the photo of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy drowned in the Mediterranean while his Syrian-Kurdish family tried to flee from the hell organized by the Russians to support the despot Assad?
It seemed that he was asleep like a baby; he was so small and innocent. Or the images of the caravans of Central Americans, especially Hondurans, who were trying to cross the border to the United States. Or the sub-Saharan blacks who travel crammed in small boats towards an uncertain European destination of drugs, prostitution or, in the best of cases, sale of counterfeit goods in makeshift stalls.
Something has to be done. The phenomenon is universal. The poor, the persecuted and those crushed by political repression, know that there is a better world and that it is elsewhere within reach of a raft, an intricate road or a bordering river. The movies, the television, and the social media give constant news of those happy nations in which it is possible to dream of a different future. When we know that we are condemned to a mediocre life under the oppressors’ boots, the psychological need to escape arises.
That happened in 1980 when Fidel Castro announced that he was taking away the protection of the Embassy of Peru in Havana so that anyone who wanted could ask for asylum in the Embassy.
The Commander thought it would be a few dozen. Eleven thousand people entered in a few hours. All that fit, millimeter by millimeter. It was an unusual drama. It was the daring advance party of the millions of Cubans who had realized that their lives would inevitably be miserable and could do nothing to improve them because of the government’s interference with its absurd prohibitions and controls.
Leaving the country forever resembles the decision of suicidal individuals. Suicides take their own lives when they see no way out of their misfortunes. The same urgency created the Central American caravans. Their societies were failed societies with no hope of improvement.
It is not poverty. There are poor people in Panama and Costa Rica and there are no natives of those countries amid the flood of Central American immigrants. Panama and Costa Rica, despite all the obstacles, are liberal democracies in which it is possible to dream of a better future. There were poor people in pre-Chavez Venezuela and the country continued to receive immigrants full of hope. The exodus is the consequence of despair.
What can be done? The first thing is to relieve the victims. Heal them. Feed them. Give them back their lost dignity. I know because I was one of those victims. In September 1961, I arrived in Miami from Havana on a flight that brought asylum seekers from the Venezuelan embassy in Cuba. I was 18 years old. They did not tell me what I had to do, but they gave me the instruments so that I could decide how I sought my own happiness and that of my family.
Unfortunately, this is something that cannot be left to the democratic method. Societies tend to be inclement with strangers. Maybe it’s part of our genetic load. The only great gathering in Cuba in 1939 took place to close the doors on the poor Jews fleeing the Nazi horror. The newspapers of the time say that 40,000 Havanans congregated to oppose this immigration. The image of Tijuana’s residents throwing stones at the Central American caravans are an expression of these atavistic rejections.
The false idea that “they take away our jobs”, or the petty calculation that “they come to use our limited public resources” usually prevails against a weak solidarity instinct. That’s why the issue cannot be left to the best judgment of the majority. The majority is very cruel with people who worship other gods, have a different color or speak another language. But something has to be done.Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.