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 Cuba Addressing the Causes of Regional Migration
Giolkys Rodríguez arrived in Havana with barely a change of clothes. By the third day, he was already chauffeuring a one of Havana’s rickshaw-like “bicitaxis” and sleeping at a friend’s house. Two years earlier he had been in the capital doing his military service. He believed he had learned enough about the possibilities that the city offered him; so he decided to prove his luck.

“I came to get ahead, and I did what I had to do that. I’ve been everything: a baker, shoemaker; I’ve cleaned patios, carried water, taken care of animals... Everything but steal, I’ve done any and everything that gets me the few pesos to continue struggling.”

Giolkys lives in a rough neighborhood, Las Pierdras, on the outskirts of Havana – quite far from his native province of Guantánamo, Cuba’s far eastern region [historically depressed and predominantly black, T.N.].

More than a year ago he moved in with a woman here in Havana. Previously he had been renting, though on occasions he had to sleep wherever it was that night found him.

“There are people who ask me why I don’t go back to Guantánamo. There you have your salary, but nothing else. Here in Havana, although you have to work hard, there are always more possibilities. Now I’m getting my papers to change my residence legally.”

“I know stories similar to mine. There are many people like me who come here for economic reasons... There are also those who emigrate to be closer to their family, and others who left their province because they were too restricted professionally.”

Havana continues being the main point of attraction for the great majority of Cubans who decide to move. As occurs in the rest of the world, the big city offers charms in the popular imagination – sometimes over estimated; these captivate and lure people, though these individuals have to overcome a host of obstacles.

The figures of the Cuba’s last Population and Housing Census, carried out in 2002, show that the capital absorbs 40.8 percent of the total number of immigrants with the country.

Historically, the population of the island has moved from the east to the west, but with a sole destination: Havana.

Since the 1959 revolution, the readjustment of disproportions that existed between the different provinces began being tackled through new development policies, which had a significant impact on migratory currents.

However, the economic crisis following the collapse of the European socialist camp paralyzed the development strategies that the country was pursuing. Amid the difficult circumstances of the 1990s, a tremendous demographic explosion hit the capital in the form of a spontaneous and seemingly limitless exodus of people from other regions.

Currently, as new conditions are emerging, the nation faces the challenge of designing and applying new instruments to revive life in towns and reverse this tendency.

The country is faced with the imperative of correcting the imbalances in regional development that have accumulated over the last 15 years and to reestablish —to the degree that the economy recovers— the policy that was inaugurated with the Revolution.

The Cuban Revolution inherited a capital whose residents constituted 21 percent of the urban population and 35 percent of the total population of the country. The high degree of population concentration was opposed to the high degree of rural dispersion, where public investment remained remarkably precarious.

After the 1959 victory, measures that were specially guided to control urban growth and the revitalization of the rural areas had an effect on migration, halting it in certain areas and inducing the flow toward other regions.

In a 1966 speech, Fidel Castro referred to the purposes of such efforts. He stated, “If we do not take charge of developing the interior of the country, if we don’t carry out a policy of creating conditions that make life pleasant within the country, the phenomenon of wanting to move to Havana will persist, and the problem of the capital will become increasingly worse.”

As a result of the policy of balancing the capital and the rest of the country, the revolution changed the inherited disproportions of the preceding system.

Agrarian reform, the improvement of rural services, the widespread decrease in unemployment and policies for balancing the incomes of agricultural and industrial workers, ended up creating the basis for reducing the rural exodus to the capital. In addition, management plans for Havana and development and investments plans for te regions were designed and applied.

In 1975 and 1980, at the first two party congresses, precise objectives regarding immigration policy and the regional distribution of the productive forces were formulated.

At the second congress, a main report was presented by Fidel Castro. It called for the distribution of economic resources with the objective of achieving deep transformations in regional structures, with a more efficient distribution of productive activities; a more rational use of natural and human resources, the more balanced and affirmative development of less-developed regions, and the progressive equalization of the conditions of life in the different provinces of the country, as well as the adoption of measures to guide internal migration and the consequent structuring of the urban system.

The revitalization of medium and small cities, which assumed new administrative functions, especially after 1976; the creation of new plans for agricultural and industrial development at the regional level, and the construction of more than 300 new rural towns or communities, affected local migratory movements.

As Blanca Morejón noted, “In 1976, eight cities become provincial capitals. A provincial capital requires services that a smaller municipally doesn’t. It needs a provincial hospital, an art school, a university... and that institutional-building process made the migratory currents made comfortable. Instead of people going directly to Havana, they left for their provincial capital.”

“I remember, for example, at the first party congress, people saying that if you performed work in a province that was similar to a job in Havana, the salary might be higher. This wage stimulus encouraged people to settle there; the same possibility existed in terms of getting good housing more quickly.”

It was not by chance that an evaluation by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) on economic and social policy concluded that “Cuba has been the only country in Latin America that has reverted the prevalent tendencies in other areas through deliberate policies.”

Havana bursting at the seams

The economic crisis in the most difficult years in the 1990s economic crisis prevented the carrying out of many of those strategies. Amid the great economic tension there took place a great migration toward the capital.

“Under those conditions,” pointed out Juan Carlos Alfonso, director of the Center for the Study of Population and Development, “the city could not satisfy the demand for housing, transportation or other services. It did not possess the infrastructure capable of handling that demographic flow. It was necessary to take some measured type of control and to bring order to the process.”

In April 1997, Ordinance 217 [regulating the entrance to the capital city from other points of the country, especially toward the largest four of Havana’s fifteen municipalities, T.N.).

of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers took effect as a measure to halt the sustained increase in migration, which was occurring in a disorganized way and further complicating the lives of residents.

Restoring balance

For Juan Carlos Alfonso, “The solution to the problem is one of developing local initiatives. Decision-making is still very centralized. To the degree that people participate in production and in those decisions affecting their lives, development is going to more harmonic, there their will be less of a need to regulate migration.

“I believe that we basically lack the objective of local development, what would have a strong impact on migration. For example, when the sugar production ceased being efficient and sugar mills disappeared, 200-year-old production chains became lost. The residents saw their source of employment disappear. They begin to emigrate.

“We need a strategy different from before. Not everything can come from the center – from the capital. There has to be municipal initiative, there has to be municipal life for people to be motivated.”

(Juventud Rebelde)

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