In an ironic example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, President Barack Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba has triggered a new humanitarian crisis, a serious diplomatic standoff in the Americas, and a renewed sense of panic among many Cubans that, if not addressed effectively, could lead to even greater problems.
As soon as Obama and his Cuban counterpart, President Raul Castro, simultaneously announced an agreement to start thawing diplomatic ties back in December 2014, officials in the South American nation of Ecuador noticed something rather curious happening: a sharp upswing in the number of Cubans turning up at their immigration counters. Ecuador had abolished all requirements for tourist visas back in 2008. Since then, Cubans seeking to reach the U.S. had started transiting through Ecuador on their way north. Suddenly, just after the move to normalize Cuban-American ties, the trickle of Cuban migrants turned into a steady stream. Before long, it would become a rushing torrent.
The trigger for what some in Cuba say could become a stampede out of the island is a rumor percolating across the country claiming that Washington, as part of its new ties with Havana, plans to end its favorable treatment of Cubans seeking asylum in the United States. Washington denies any such plans exist, but the denials, which defy common sense, have done nothing to slow the accelerating exodus from Cuba.