Illegal emigration from Cuba has been encouraged from the very first years of the Revolution as a way of harassment to deprive it of technical personnel and other skilled workers, and to recruit mercenaries for terrorist activities, pirate attacks and military invasions. At the same time, this illegal migration has also been used for propaganda against the Cuban Revolution.

Tens of millions of people from Third World countries have migrated to industrialized countries for economic reasons, and hundreds of thousands would like to do likewise. Before the Revolution, a very limited number of visas were granted to Cuban citizens, and very few people would have dared to emigrate illegally. However, during the first years of the Revolution, beginning on January 1, 1959, thousands of individuals who had collaborated with the Batista dictatorship and committed atrocious crimes or embezzled enormous sums of money, headed off for the United States with absolutely no obstacles in their way. Shortly afterwards, they were joined by thousands of big landowners, landlords, major industrialists and businessmen together with other sectors of the ruling class affected by the first Revolutionary laws.

Treacherous campaigns, like the one that made a good many families believe that the Revolution would take away custody of their children, promoted further migration from the country. There were even some who left out of fear of conflicts, aggression or invasions from the United States. All of these departures, with the exception of the war criminals that escaped any way they could, were completely legal, authorized by the Revolution, and carried out orderly and by safe means.

Illegal migration began when the U.S. government no longer granted any visas. From then on, the immense majority of those who emigrated to the United States did so for economic reasons, just like the millions and millions of Latin Americans who have also done it, and who continue to attempt to do it in growing numbers and by any means possible, either legally or illegally.

However, when it comes to Cubans who leave for the very same economic reasons, or to be reunited with their families, they are never referred to as emigrants but rather as exiles. Since they headed primarily for the United States, the wealthiest country in the world situated just 90 miles off our own coasts where they arrived illegally without a visa, the first thing they were required to do was to proclaim their opposition to the "communist system in Cuba." This was the "Open, sesame" used by these Cuban "exiles", and every single one of them was admitted into that country. This is the term coined by enemy propaganda for all those who emigrate from Cuba, with no exceptions. Emigrants from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America or South America are never called exiles, nor is it claimed that they have fled from their country, a label pinned on every Cuban citizen everywhere in the world.

Contributing decisively to this situation is the fact that for decades now the official policy of the United States has been to even further encourage this illegal migration with a law established over 32 years ago and still in force. That law gives all Cuban citizens the right to resident status the moment they set foot on U.S. territory, with no need for a visa of any kind, a prerogative that is not extended to a single immigrant from any other country in the world. This politically motivated encouragement to leave our country and enter the United States illegally has given rise to a number of irregular and complicated situations between Cuba and the United States with regard to the problem of illegal migration.

An agreement to normalize such state of affairs was signed during the Reagan administration that, unfortunately, was not honored by the United States. Despite the commitment to grant "up to" 20,000 visas annually for family reunification purposes, only 2000 to 3000 visas were granted the first year, and that figure immediately dropped to less than 1000 a year. On the other hand, there was an increase in the number of illegal arrivals --the only alternative left to those wanting to emigrate-- who were welcomed and publicized as heroes through extensive counterrevolutionary propaganda and the Miami-based media.

With the installation of the special period and the grueling circumstances our country has had to endure following the abrupt loss of all of its markets and its primary sources of supplies of food, fuel, raw materials and other essential products derived from the collapse of the socialist bloc and the disintegration of the USSR illegal migration increased dramatically and even combined with violent crimes and other offenses committed while hijacking vessels for this purpose. The situation had been made worse by a merciless economic blockade maintained for decades against our heroic country, with all doors to legal migration firmly closed and illegal emigration highly encouraged from the United States by way of thousands of hours of subversive, destabilizing radio broadcasts every week. Unscrupulous, irresponsible and antisocial elements took the greatest advantage of this situation.

This combination of factors gave rise in 1994 to what became known as the "rafters’ crisis". As the Cuban government has clearly pointed out and explained, despite the fact that the US economic blockade and the impunity it granted to illegal emigrants were basically at the source of the crisis, our country demonstrated its willingness to cooperate in seeking a reasonable solution to a complex problem.

As a result of intense negotiations in New York between representatives of the United States and Cuba to overcome numerous obstacles an agreement was reached on September 9, 1994 in which Cuba showed great flexibility and a sense of responsibility.

Although nothing had been done to remove the two fundamental factors behind illegal emigration --namely the economic blockade and the Cuban Adjustment Act passed on November 2, 1966 (granting automatic residence to all Cubans arriving illegally on US coasts) which the current US administration could not overturn, even if it had wanted to, having lost the majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives on November 8, 1994-- the agreement gave rise to a real possibility of putting an end to the crisis.

Our country's citizens complied with the instructions of the authorities in a disciplined manner. The vessels transported to the coasts by those planning to illegally migrate to the United States were withdrawn without the use of force. According to this agreement, hundreds of thousands of Cubans were able to travel to the United States in subsequent years legally and by absolutely safe means. By leaving the country legally, these people would be able to travel to Cuba any time they wished in compliance with the existing rules. At the same time, exit visas are granted to any Cuban wishing to travel temporarily to the United States or any other country in the world, save for those cases where national security interests or the provision of essential services might be placed in jeopardy.

Cuba has strictly and rigorously honored every one of the terms of the agreement, without exceptions, despite the incident provoked on February 24, 1996 off our coasts by the Miami counterrevolutionary extreme right wing, which led to the shooting down of two aircraft. This incident was used by the current US administration as a pretext for signing the hateful Helms-Burton Act that would further tighten the brutal economic blockade against Cuba.

The United States, for its part, has also complied with the agreement. Since that time, no less than 20,000 visas have been granted every year. Those who attempt to emigrate illegally are intercepted at sea and generally returned to Cuba and sent back to their place of residence with all of the guarantees agreed upon.

Complementary aspects or discrepancies on the interpretation of said Agreement are discussed at meetings held systematically between the authorities of the two countries. Not a single life has been lost among the almost 100,000 people, complete families included, who have legally migrated to the United States since that time.

However, the extreme right wing elements among the Cuban émigrés living in the United States find this situation intolerable. They are a resentful minority comprised of former followers of Batista, the exploitative ruling class, reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries of the lowest order, supporters of the blockade, who yearn for and dream of invasions and attacks against our country, even at the cost of the lives of millions of sons and daughters of a courageous, heroic nation, whose resistance will never relent.

In contrast to the silent majority who support neither the blockade nor the war against the Cuban people, these reactionary and extremist elements command substantial economic resources, largely of doubtful origin or the product of exceptional favors received in the heart of the empire, where they have joined in the game of the two traditional political parties to create powerful lobbies and various forms of influence in the US Congress and other sectors of the government. They were the ones primarily responsible for promoting the Helms-Burton Act and the February 24 incident. They have done unspeakable things to sabotage the Migratory Agreement and to provoke a conflict between the United States and Cuba.

In recent weeks, they have been orchestrating a large-scale conspiracy against the agreement with the support of the most extremist members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives and some of the most reactionary media. They have used their radio broadcasts to spread the claim that the Cuban authorities would promote, authorize or tolerate a massive illegal exodus to the United States. Likewise, they have instigated and encouraged antisocial elements in Cuba, who would not be eligible for visas to enter the United States, to travel there illegally by any means possible disregarding the provisions of the Cuban authorities and creating disorder whenever possible.

It is even more striking and significant that they have been carrying out unbelievable acts of provocation against the US Coast Guard, which the US government has assigned with the task of intercepting vessels attempting to illegally transport Cubans to the United States. These people have even laid traps for the Coast Guards on the shores of their coasts, bringing in the media by helicopter or other means to record even the slightest instance of pressure or force used by the Coast Guard crews to prevent these illegal emigrants from reaching land. They have mounted genuine publicity stunts, widely covered, that discredit and demoralize the very authorities that should enforce the United States' provisions, laws and commitments against illegal smuggling and trafficking of aliens. All of this is taking place in a pre-electoral atmosphere when aspirations to major posts of crucial importance are at stake.

The collision, 50 kilometers north of Miami, of a Coast Guard cutter and a boat apparently coming from the Bahamas with 12 Cubans on board who refused to obey the Coast Guards orders, led to the unfortunate death of a woman when the boat capsized. This set off a formidable scandal fully exploited by those who want to liquidate the Migratory Agreement.

The Coast Guard Service has become the target of virulent and demoralizing attacks. The rallying cry launched by the counterrevolutionary Mafia, which practically feels it owns the United States, is to disobey the Coast Guard's instructions. Counterrevolutionaries and those illegally trafficking in emigrants care nothing about the human lives that can be lost in such misadventures.

This is a serious issue that has added to the problem stemming from the absolute impunity with which they illegally enter the US territory. As it was to be expected from those circles, a major network dedicated to the repugnant and thriving business of trafficking in emigrants has been organized involving Cuban nationals. Relatives pay an average of 8000 dollars per person. Speedboats with powerful engines coming from Florida carry 15, 20 or even more people, well above the maximum admissible limit, which has led to the death of a great number of people. A considerable number of the crew of these types of vessels smuggling aliens have been arrested in recent months very close to our coasts. Twenty-six of them were arrested before the sanctions foreseen for this type of crime in the Criminal Code became more severe and nine others were arrested after the introduction of certain modifications including the life sentence.

Undoubtedly, there is one element that has primarily supported and encouraged illegal migration from Cuba to the United States: the aforementioned Cuban Adjustment Act, which confers permanent resident status to all those who, coming from Cuba, violate its immigration laws. As long as the US administration is unable to remove that absurd and paradoxical incentive --inapplicable to nationals from any other country in Latin America, the Caribbean or the world-- while keeping in place a blockade tightened by the Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts, as well as by many other arbitrary amendments to any other law in an attempt to suffocate the Cuban economy thus inevitably leading to sacrifices, our people's struggle against trafficking with people will be a difficult and complex task.

One repugnant event has exacerbated the bloodthirsty extremist Mafia: the war in Yugoslavia. They dream and entertain delusions eagerly hoping that Cuba could be turned into something similar to Serbia. They do not cease to cherish the idea of seeing our country militarily blockaded, invaded or attacked by thousands of bombs and missiles that would destroy the vital means of life and services of our people, whose capacity to resist and struggle beyond the unthinkable they should already know only too well. They give full credit to the assumption that the formula of liquidation of the Migratory Agreement, plus Cuban Adjustment Act, plus tightened blockade would amount to the kind of migration trend that would inevitably bring about a conflict between the United States and Cuba. Their spokesmen have not hesitated in demanding a total fuel blockade against Cuba so that there could not be a single illegal exit, such as they try to encourage through every possible means.

The US authorities have stated that Cuba has complied with the Agreement and the conspirators feel all the more outraged by this. They have become all the more vociferous. They have turned all the more hysterical criticizing the US administration, which they accuse of having struck a nefarious and treacherous agreement with Cuba.

We thought we had seen it all when it comes to hatred, frustration and cynicism! But, our heroic resistance, our ability to move forward despite formidable obstacles, the ever growing prestige and admiration Cuba inspires all over the world is driving them crazy.

As we usually do, we will watch with equanimity the unfolding of events. Our position is clear and firm. We will continue to strictly comply with the commitments entered into in the Migratory Agreement. There is not the slightest possibility --and it is good for the unwary or those misled by rumors or deceit to know-- that the Revolution could ever authorize or allow any type of mass exodus. All those who wish to migrate to any country through legal and safe means will be permitted to do so, as it has been the case until now. By illegal means, absolutely not! It is the honor and the national security of the country that are at stake. We will strongly respond to any such trend, first and foremost through the organized force of the people who, always abiding by their principles and legal and moral standards, will not permit any adventurous action hazardous to their survival and their future.

We shall adopt whatever measures are necessary to prevent, and to struggle against, the trafficking with people imposed from abroad. Likewise, we shall fight the organization of, cooperation with, or material support for any sort of illegal migration from within the country, whether for money or as a result of irresponsibility.

The full weight of the law will fall on those primarily responsible. Very soon, the first smugglers to commit this crime after the new law entered into force –those who caused the death of a Cuban and seriously endangered the lives of five children and other people-will be tried according to the new provisions of the Criminal Code.

It is worthwhile reiterating that our people are faced with an enormous challenge, considering that there is still a ruthless blockade in place, a real war against our economy and an absurd law of impunity, which rewards those who break our laws and those of the United States. But, our people have waged many a victorious battle, have learned to overcome formidable obstacles and have always acted with intelligence, determination and courage.

Blackmail and conspiracies by repugnant mercenaries and unpatriotic elements have proved useless against Cuba. Regardless of the power of those trying to drag Cuba into a conflict, there is no risk, no threat and no danger of aggression that could push us off our course or alter our imperturbable serenity and our effective, intelligent and calm response.