Cubans during the Mariel exodus in 1980

Cubans during the Mariel exodus in 1980

Most of the migratory movements in the Caribbean are caused by labor reasons. The only two important mass migration events in recent Caribbean history that were not due to labor reasons occurred in Cuba and Haiti: in the former country in 1980 when the port of Mariel was opened and later in 1996 during the “boat people” crisis; and in Haiti in 2000 following internal political instability. But labor is the most significant reason for migratory movements in the region.

It was estimated in 1990 that the number of Caribbean people living outside their home countries was 6 million. In 2009, there were 3.5 million people from the Caribbean in the United States alone. Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Guyana, in that order, lead the list of countries that export labor. The main destination for these migrants is the United States, and it is estimated that 75 percent of all of the Caribbean emigrants are in the United States. The number of Dominicans and Cubans in the United States represents 8% of the home populations and there are more Puerto Ricans in the United States than on the island of Puerto Rico. Other destinations, in order of preference, are the United Kingdom, Canada, Holland and France.

Labor migrations, however, have unavoidable effects on the power relationships of the countries that export labor, including monetary remittances and the drain of talent. As for remittances sent home by workers abroad, this source of income has become the most stable and fastest growing flow of capital in the Caribbean region in the past decade. Many believe that the remittances are covering a gap that neither the governments nor the development agencies have been able to fill. Remittances to the Caribbean were calculated at $5.7 billion in 2002. Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti are the countries that receive the most remittances from the United States. At the international level, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are among the top five countries that receive the most remittances per capita. In 2003, remittances to Haiti, Guyana and Jamaica represented 24.2%, 16.6% and 12.2% of their respective gross domestic products (GDP). The growth rate of remittances to the Caribbean from 2001 to 2002 was 20.7%, the highest in Latin America.

Another political effect of the Caribbean diaspora for labor reasons, particularly in the small islands, can be seen in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Increased tourism to these islands after 1960 (after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, U.S. tourists who previously went to Cuba were forced to go to other islands in the Caribbean) has attracted imported labor (from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the United States and the eastern Caribbean islands) to the point that natives are now a minority of the population. Because the U.S. Immigrationand Naturalization Service controlled the immigration policy in the islands, the locals could not stop the waves of immigrants. As a result, internal political struggles in the region have gradually turned into a battle between natives and immigrants and have paved the way for the emergence of nationalist and nativist movements.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: June 24, 2012.

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