By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
The Cuban military dictatorship has unleashed three destabilizing rafter crises since taking power in 1959. They occurred in 1965, 1980 and 1994-95, all years when a Democrat was in the White House. During the Obama administration, more than 120,000 Cuban migrants found their way to U.S. ports of entry from 2014-16, mainly via Central America.
There was no attempt by Fidel Castro to flood American shores with desperate balseros during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush despite their hard-line policies against Cuba. Donald Trump faced caravans arriving at the southern border starting in 2018 but by the end of 2019, the numbers of migrant “encounters” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection had dropped precipitously.
This partisan dichotomy is worth noting in light of the human train-wreck at the southern U.S. border since President Biden took office. Is the migrant crisis merely a spontaneous flood of huddled masses yearning to breathe free, or is it an organized assault on U.S. law and order similar to Castro pranks of old?
Flight data from Venezuela to Mexico collected by the nongovernmental organization Center for a Secure Free Society, or SFS, and interviews the center has done with migrants at the U.S. border suggest the latter. In a paper due out in March, SFS director Joseph Humire presents research to show that Caracas has played a key role in facilitating the migrant spike since 2021.
Using migrants as weapons is essentially an act of war. Yet on Thursday the U.S. announced that it will grant an additional 30,000 visas a month to Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians if they apply from their home countries. Mr. Biden sets a bad precedent in bowing to blackmail as so many of his Democratic predecessors did.
Enemies of Western liberal democracies have a long tradition of sparking migration crises to extract geopolitical concessions from governments that appear vulnerable to extortion. In a 2016 essay in the journal Military Review titled “Migration as a Weapon in Theory and in Practice,” Tufts University political science professor Kelly Greenhill defined the strategy as “coercive engineered migration.”
Weak nations, Ms. Greenhill explained, can capitalize on the desperation of their populations “to achieve political goals that would be utterly unattainable through military means.” Clearly “the idea that states such as Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico could successfully coerce their neighbor, the United States, with the threat of military force is absurd,” Ms. Greenhill wrote. But “the tacit or explicit threat of demographic bombs” to force the U.S. to negotiations, is not. Cuba was successful in this strategy during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Ms. Greenhill’s essay doesn’t mention Venezuela but in recent years it may have become the most aggressive practitioner of the geopolitical coercion that she described.
Venezuela wants desperately to get out from under U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and restore its legitimacy. It made progress last year by forcing U.S. talks with dictator Nicolás Maduro to free American hostages and feigning interest in negotiating a return to democracy. But the large numbers of people desperate to leave the country also scream opportunity.
Many migrants are opponents of the regime, and exile is a way of purging dissidents. But it isn’t enough that they leave. Caracas delights in the destabilizing effects of large numbers of migrants on Uncle Sam’s doorstep. Those eventually employed in the U.S. will send back dollar remittances, which will prop up Venezuela’s economy.
Some seven million people have fled Venezuela since 2014, when the economy hit the skids. But in most of those years, migrants went largely to neighboring countries in South America. When Mr. Biden arrived in the White House, things changed.
Mr. Humire told me last week that “immigration agents encountered nearly 190,000 Venezuelans along the U.S.-Mexico border in the latest fiscal year ending September 30, a 375% increase over the previous fiscal year.” Organized crime trafficked many of those people on land but the evidence collected by SFS suggests that it wasn’t without help from Caracas.
According to SFS, in 2021 and 2022 the majority of the direct flights to Mexico from Venezuela were operated by Conviasa, which is subject to U.S. sanctions, or other, smaller state-owned or state-controlled airlines. SFS found that Venezuelans it interviewed at the border, who had arrived in Mexico by air, had purchased packages from Venezuelan travel agents. The packages included the necessary government-issue travel documents to enter Mexico and contacts with human smugglers who facilitated the ground journey to the U.S. border.
Mr. Biden could clamp down on Mr. Maduro’s trafficking network by imposing sanctions on fuel and service providers to the Venezuelan airlines. Instead, he has opted to reward the exploitation of the refugees. Problem not solved.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on January 8, 2022. All comments posted and published on Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of Petroleumworld.
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