Cuba and Beyond: The Thin Blue Line

Veronica Vega

Nostalgia. Foto: Juan Suárez

HAVANA TIMES – “The Thin Red Line” is a beautiful and outrageous movie whose title alludes to the line on a map that defines a territory that is a war objective – and to the tragedy that such signaling portends.

As one who spent her childhood watching the horizon that stretches past the ocean surrounding this island and thinking about the many who have left (and still leave) and the mystery of their inaccessibility, I’ve thought that blue line is also a fatal demarcation for Cubans.

How many stories begin or end with this very sharp line – sharp enough to cut a country in half?

A few days ago, I greeted an old acquaintance in front of the UNEAC. When my son asked me who it was, I answered: “someone who – when I see him – makes me feel that he and I are objects worthy of a museum collection. Because I knew him as part of a group of artists in the 90s, and it seems that we are only two left.”

I inevitably remember a poem by Reina Maria Rodriguez in which she speaks of her two address books: one for the friends from here, another for those who are outside the country. It goes without saying that the names of those from “here” leap over into the other book.

After reading the article “The Contradiction” by Harold Cardenas, creator of the Joven Cuba website,

I’m convinced that life, as well as political power, is fed by the generational recycling; and here in Cuba from the mirages born of a very particular problem that is now over 55 years old.

The author expresses: Of my childhood and adolescent friends, not many are still left here. I don’t know if I simply had the bad luck to study together with so many future emigrants, or if it’s typical that so many have left. I wouldn’t know how to tell you because the statistics regarding the emigration of the youth in Cuba haven’t been made public.”

For the youth to abandon the island implies an undermining of the very foundations of the future.  This is undeniable, but – weren’t the youth also predominant in the exodus of Camarioca, of Mariel or among the rafters of ’94?  All of my friends and family members who emigrated did so when they were young.

Beyond admitting that this syndrome, if we can call it such, “of curiosity, frustration or claustrophobia” seems to have become a stampede, we should recognize that the hemorrhaging began with the Revolution. The current social stagnation, the lack of unity and civil perspective, are a consequence not only of the low salaries, the tangible and intangible restrictions, the sustained labor of discrediting any form of dissidence, but also of this long slow bleeding.

The exodus has taken the form of marriages of convenience, intricate and expensive networks of “legal” and illegal emigration, and infinite alternatives conceivable only by the desperation of the needy and the lack of scruples of those who have access to the barriers marking the frontiers between “here” and “there”.

It’s been camouflaged by the international work missions, the visits to friends or family members; it shows its face in the lines in front of the immigration offices and the embassies, and in the desolation in the eyes of those leaving their interview in the SINA (US Interests Section in Havana) after having been denied the status of “possible emigrant”.

Many of those exiting that imposing building across from the malecón are far from young. Their best years were lost in a country that has condemned its elderly to indigence.  Their children or grandchildren don’t live, or don’t want to live, in Cuba.

They suffered patiently through years of work and useless waiting, the continual postponing of the illusion of a better future, the separation of spouses, children, their solitude and poverty.  They see the thin and remote blue line as a curse.

Yes, I too would like to have access to the statistics regarding Cuban emigration, but to the TOTAL sum of those who pawned their lives for a dream.  A dream that for decades now has wandered along the perimeter of that abstract line that divides, not heaven and earth, but here and there, denial and hope.

I want to see the statistics of those who left through legal channels; of those who attempted it in fragile embarkations and arrived; of those who never managed to leave; of those who leave on foreign missions and stay; of those who leave on family visits and also stay.  Of those among the high officials who have deserted, whose routes were always free from the bureaucracy that haunts everyday Cubans, and free from the inquisition of the statistics.

And the numbers of those who did not go into exile and who have lived (or even died) in homes, streets or jails, with their minds fixed on any other possible country, from which it wouldn’t be necessary to flee.

3 thoughts on “Cuba and Beyond: The Thin Blue Line

  • Which book have you not read? IMHO, the best 2 are “Ruins” and Before Night Falls”.

    There are probably many other books on the subject of the Cuban diaspora, in fiction & non-fiction.

  • Thanks for your comment Griffin. I have read all but one of the books you recommend and they were excellent reading.

  • Veronica, you write beautifully and directly to the heart of the issues. The Cuban people have suffered greatly as has the Cuba nation as a whole.

    A small literary point: the movie “A Thin Red Line” was based on the novel of the same name by author James Jones, and was based on his experienced as a US Marine fighting the Japanese at Guadalcanal in WWII. The phrase “a thin red line” comes from Kipling’s poem “Tommy” (O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes”) when the drums begin to roll), which in turn refers to the military action by Scotland’s Sutherland Highlanders red-coated 93rd Highland Regiment at the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War. These few brave Scots were the ‘thin red line” who defended a much larger force in a terrible pitched battle. The colour red refers to the colour of their tunics and to the blood they shed in that battle.

    You are free to draw any parallels you wish from those literary references to the plight of the Cuban diaspora.

    You ask for statistics on the numbers of Cubans who went into exile. From the available sources, the generally quoted figure is “over one million” Cubans left the island since the revolution. That includes the estimated 60,000 to 75,000 who died while attempting to cross the sea, the “Thin Blue Line”. It has been estimated by various authors that some 8,000 to 12,000 Cubans were killed by the Castro regime, either via firing squad, or who died while in prison, or were killed though other extra-judicial means. Numerous high official and senior ranking military officers have defected over the years, including General Rafael del Pino and a high ranking Cuban intelligence agent named Florentino Aspillaga.

    The official Cuban government figure for Cubans killed in Angola is 2,289. Other researchers put the true figure at between 3,000 and 10,000.

    In 2013, some 39,000 Cubans emigrated, legally or illegally. This is the highest number to leave in over a decade. The Cuban nation continues to hemorrhage a thin red line into that thin blue line on the horizon.

    Novels by Cuban authors which deal with the exile include, “The Lonely Crossing of Juan Cabrera” by Joaquin Fraxedas, “Everyone Leaves” by Wendy Guerra, “Ruins” by Achy Obejas, “Waiting for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire, and Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir, “Before Night Falls”. All are excellent books, and well recommended.

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