Scheming in Cuban

(Marilyn Acosta/Flickr)

(Marilyn Acosta/Flickr)

According to the exile community and other anti-communists, Cuba is an island of hardship and despair suffering under the heavy fists of decrepit tyrants. It’s an inferno only suitable for sadists and masochists. Everyone else has either flown or floated away to safety, or is desperately securing their escape.

And yet, the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida has published a damning exposé showing how many so-called Cuban refugees arrive in Florida and apply for benefits, only to return back to the hell they claim to be fleeing.

As the Sun-Sentinel reports:

Some stay for months at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying.

Cubans’ unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it’s helping some finance their lives on the communist island.

America’s open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread.

Some don’t come back at all. The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act makes it so that any Cuban who lands on U.S. territory is automatically deemed a political refugee and put on a fast track to permanent residency. Cubans are also among the few immigrants eligible for citizenship benefits immediately upon their arrival, including welfare, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and elderly and disability assistance.

In Hialeah, a predominantly Cuban city in the Miami metropolitan area, many of the immigrants receiving benefits have been shown to be living back in Cuba for much, if not most of the year. One public housing resident was earning at least $350 month selling goods in Cuba while receiving U.S. benefits for her disabled son. Another person used his disability benefits to fix up his home in Camagüey.

A lot of Cuban immigrants simply sign up for benefits and return to Cuba for good, entrusting the receipt of their benefits to a friend or family member in Florida who then sends the money across the Florida Straits.

More from Sun-Sentinel:

Accessing benefits from Cuba typically requires a U.S. bank account and a willing relative or friend stateside. Food stamps and welfare are issued monthly through a debit-type card, and SSI payments are deposited into a bank account or onto a MasterCard.

A joint account holder with a PIN number can withdraw the money and wire it to Cuba. Another option: entrust the money to a friend traveling to Cuba.

Roberto Pizano of Tampa, a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years, said he worked two jobs when he arrived in the U.S. in 1979 and never accepted government help. He now sees immigrants ‘abusing the system.’

‘I know people who come to the U.S., apply for SSI and never worked in the USA,’ he said. They ‘move back to Cuba and are living off of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.’ …

A 2012 complaint alleged a 75-year-old woman had moved to Camaguey two years earlier and a relative was withdrawing her SSI money from a bank account and sending it to her. Social Security stopped payments, but not before nearly $16,000 had been deposited into her account.

A look into how some Cuban immigrants game the U.S. welfare system is only the first part in the Sun-Sentinel‘s three-part series titled “Easy Money.” The second part briefly looks at how some elderly Cubans retire to Florida to receive benefits, or sign up for benefits and return to Cuba where the money is sent to them. The third part in the series discusses how state and federal officials have protected the special status of Cuban immigrants, ensuring exceptions were made for Cubans whenever other immigrants were cut off from receiving welfare benefits.

Earlier in the year the Sun-Sentinel published another related exposé on Cuban criminals who have received over $2 billion dollars from U.S. taxpayers and businesses during the past two decades.

What the Sun-Sentinel has dug up is clearly a sham and a theft of taxpayer dollars. More than that, however, is the reality that Cuban society is not nearly as grotesque as some would have us believe. That anyone would come to the United States, apply for benefits, and then promptly return to their homeland in Latin America suggests that they believe their homeland to be better than the United States, only less rich.

I’m no fidelista, and I would never call Cuba better overall than the United States, but what the Sun-Sentinel‘s series reveals most of all is that many Cubans are happy with the society and government they have in Cuba. That may come as a surprise to the Ileana Ros-Lehtinens and Marco Rubios of the world, but it isn’t shocking in the least to anyone familiar with the Cuban Revolution and the history of U.S.-Cuban relations. What most Cubans seem to understand is that whatever Cuba’s faults may be are partly due to the Castro regime but also due in part to the actions taken by the United States — not only for the last 50-odd years, but over the last century.

History is not some fairy tale with no relevance in the here and now. It is the origin story of today. We in the present are connected to an infinite number of threads extending back into the past. Cuba may be poor because of socialism, but that is merely one thread. The dictatorship has made Cuba a closed society, but what forces and conditions gave rise to the dictatorship?

The abuse of the U.S. welfare system by Cuban immigrants is a monster of the United States’ own creation. If the United States wants to end the flood of Cuban immigrants looking for a free ride, it must do two things: end the special status given to Cuban immigrants, and end the blockade.


Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

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