The Paradoxes of Cuban Immigration

Fernando Ravsberg*

Now all it takes is a passport to leave Cuba.. Photo: Raquel Pérez

HAVANA TIMES — The opening of Cuba immigration policy could be a mortal blow to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the US law that grants residency to all Cubans who step onto American soil, under the assumption that they fled communism.

Hundreds of thousands of economic emigrants from the island settled in the US, primarily in Miami, thanks to this legislation that assumes all of them were politically persecuted, even though many of them return to Cuba every year on vacation.

The first to notice the contradiction was former president George W. Bush. However, instead of adapting the law to reality, he tried to adapt reality to the law by limiting travel to the island by the supposed exiles and forcing them to reduce the amount of money could send to Cuba.

The response by Cuban immigrants was to vote in greater numbers for the Democrat Barack Obama, who as a candidate campaigning in Florida announced that he would remove the restrictions imposed by Republicans on travel and remittances.

Obama made good on his promises and immediately the number of visits increased. Each year, half a million “exiles” show up in the Havana airport, most traveling in some of the direct daily flights coming from Miami, while others arrive via third countries.

Up until now it was impossible to have US residency without sacrificing one’s Cuban residency because Washington requires Cubans to live in the country one year and one day, while Havana required travelers to return to the island after 11 months and 29 days.

Cuban immigration reform has now extended the period. Cuban citizens can now remain out of the country for 24 months, meaning they have sufficient time to obtain US residency without losing their Cuba residency. They can now live in each country for a while if they wish.

In Miami, at the headquarters of the Brigada militar 2506 (the same outfit that in 1961 unsuccessfully tried to invade Cuba), several anti-Castro groups are asking the US government not to grant residency to everyone who requests it. They argue that this would touch off “a disturbing and unaffordable social, political and economic avalanche.”

“If they don’t change the existing laws, we’re going to go through the difficult and dramatic experience of a red Super Mariel,” one of them said, referring to the departure of 125,000 Cubans from the island in 1980. They themselves are questioning how the Cuban Adjustment Act has been applied to date.

Cuban-American Congressperson Mario Diaz Balart confessed that his “colleagues (in Congress) always insist that if they come to the United States and we allow them to enter, this is because of the special circumstances of them having been persecuted, but if they return to Cuba [that proves] no one is persecuting them.”

The hardline anti-Castro groups in Miami want a change in the Cuban Adjustment Act. Photo: Raquel Pérez

The opening of Cuban immigration has had such an impact in the US that Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen went on to say, “I don’t know what will happen to the Cuban Adjustment Act. We need to examine it to see if it still meets the objective it was aimed at accomplishing.”

Ros-Lehtinen told reporters that this legislation was not designed “for people claiming to be Cuban [exiles] but who want to travel back and forth between the US and Cuba to vacation on the island,” referring to the half-million immigrants who travel there every year.

It seems they’re proposing a return to the days of George W. Bush in order to forcibly prevent people from visiting Cuba. This would be another attempt to fit reality into a framework of political propaganda, even at the cost of cutting ties between members of Cuban families.

If there exists legislation that allows Cubans to obtain residency in the US, that’s great. Hopefully it will be expanded to the rest of Latin Americans.

Likewise, it doesn’t seem ethical or humanitarian for Cuban-American officials to now demand the elimination of that law in order to sabotage the right of their countrymen to emigrate.

What’s more, it is extremely paradoxical that those who criticized the Cuban government for restricting immigration are those who are now questioning its relaxation of restrictions, just as it’s paradoxical that those who demanded Havana allow its citizens the freedom to travel are now requesting that Washington shut the doors.

(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.


19 thoughts on “The Paradoxes of Cuban Immigration

  • There has never been Marxist government that was not authoritarian. Cuba is following the pattern set by the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, East Germany and all the other Soviet vassal states. Every one of them dictatorships. This is why I do not trust anybody who tells me he is a “democratic Marxist” or “non-authoritarian leftist”. Sure he will say that now, but once he gains power, the dictator will leap out from the shadows. Castro told that lie and the Cuban people believed him until it was too late.

    One system for political description employs two axis: authoritarian-liberal on one axis, and capitalist-socialist on the other axis. Using this method, it is easy to see how an authoritarian socialist state can transform into an authoritarian capitalist state, which is what China did.

    On another point, some historians argue that the Nazis were Leftists, not right wing. Their full name was the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party of Germany. Their ideology was collectivist and anti-capitalist. They saw the Communists as rivals, not polar opposites.

  • Left-wing can be either authoritatrian or liberal, just as right-wing. Authoritarian (actually totalytarian) left-wing governments, e.g. the Soviet Union, murdered far more people than did Nazi Germany. The left-right political spectrum is too small and confusing, several more axises are needed: authoritarian-liberal, conservative-anticonservative.

  • See ac?

    I knew that their double-standards fed up with the international corporate media would say that. Pfft…

  • Any ideology that claims to have all the answers is bound to be authoritarian, in style and methods.

    Just look at the people who leave comments here. Most try to discuss the ideas but a few resort to personal attacks and insults toward those who express differing points of view. That is the very face of authoritarianism.

  • Occupy protesters were arrested for vandalism, trespassing, assault, arson and other acts of violence. Not for expressing their right to free speech. Most people can distinguish between free speech and smashing windows. Maybe you can’t?

    Meanwhile in Cuba the regime thugs beat up the Ladies in White for trying to attend church.

  • Yes ac. These two build up fallacies and fallacies to prop up propaganda. For example Moses has just used the so-popular straw-man, putting words in my mouth in order to make a point. He on the other hand has explicitly defended the US policy towards Cuba, based on ‘human rights violations’, when at the same time the US has normal diplomatic relations – not only that, carnal relations – with Saudi Arabia. That’s why he’s probably the US Secretary of Defense in disguise.

    And Griffin is just too weak to care about. He says he ‘have a issue with nasty countries all around’ – just look at the childish nomenclature – but he spends all his time here. A propagandist by nature. He says, ‘Police in the US, Canada & Europe do not arrest people and beat them up for exercising free speech’, well he should’ve been under a rock in those past two years since the Occupy movement traveled the word and missed the police in the ‘good’ countries arresting and beating the hell out of their civilians exercising their ‘free speech’ with batons, tear gas and pepper spray.

  • Griffin,

    I often find the supporters of the powers there are in Cuban, claiming to be left-wing, have an extremely authoritarian mindset. Left-wing is to be emancipatory.but being authoritarian is not left-wing.

  • You are quite correct, there is a lot of crap written about Cuba, on both sides of the debate. Actually, most of the time it’s not a debate, but a shouting match between two mutually hostile camps. I try to address the issues and for that I get a lot of shouting directed at me. I don’t care. I just keep reading, listening and talking.

    I do indeed have issues with the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea and many other nasty countries around the world. But this is a website about Cuba, so that’s what we read & write about here.

    However, I do find it curious how defenders of the Cuban regime constantly try to make that argument, “But country x is bad! Why don’t you complain about that?” What exactly is the point of that argument? That because Saudi Arabia abuses human rights, therefore Cuba does not? Or does it mean that because the US is imperialist, it’s ok for Cuba to deny human right to their own people? Or is it simply a cheap trick to change the subject?

    The bottom line is this: the Cuban government is responsible for how it treats the Cuban people, and they do not respect human rights and freedoms. Deal with it.

    “Express detentions” are a particular tool of police repression used by the Cuban authorities to harass critics and dissidents. People are arrested for no reasonable grounds. Usually they are roughed up and beaten while the arrest is being made. I have seen photographs of dissidents showing the bruises and other injuries they received during these express detentions. You can chose to ignore them or excuse them away. This police violence is then used to charge the victim with resisting arrest. They are held in jail for a few days where they are threatened, interrogated and sometimes beaten some more. Then they are released after a few days. Sometimes the charges are dropped, or the charges are kept hanging over their heads as further intimidation. The process of express detention is often repeated several times on the same victims. The repetition is part of the intimidation, making the person frightened that it can happen again at any time.

    The victims of these express detentions broke no laws, or perhaps in some cases they broke the laws which ban free speech. Police in the US, Canada & Europe do not arrest people and beat them up for exercising free speech.

    You seem to swallow the regime line that all dissidents are agents of the Empire. It is inconceivable to regime supporters that any honest Cuban could possibly object to the Cuban government. Such dissidents do exist, but as I pointed out above, it is illegal to criticize the government and especially the rulers, Fidel & Raul. “Insulting the person of Fidel Castro” is a very common charge used against dissidents. When was the last time anybody in America was jailed for insulting President Obama or President Bush?

  • But one can show a high degree of stupidity by voicing an opinion in anything related to Cuba without experiencing it first hand, or at least from reliable sources.

    To put it bluntly, there is too much crap floating around in anything related to Cuba, too much self-interest involved in people reporting from either side and as result, what you get is a cartoonish version of the reality.

    Question: what the hell are express detentions? Nowhere in the world the police needs a warning notice before detain anyone breaking the law. And their laws expressly forbid people cooperating with external countries with the goal of overthrown the government. And surprise, the US -and every other country in the world- has identical laws,

    And about secret beatings, how do you know about them if they were secret? Just call them beatings. In the past I’ve seen several allegations from professional dissidents, what I never seen before is the evidence of such beating taking place. And don;t give me the crap, all of them have cameras to document the injuries.

    There are human right violations in Cuba? Possibly, but nothing like other countries like Saudi Arabia or China and you don;t seem to have an issue with that.

  • On a related note, it seems that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez is under investigation by the FBI for having sex with under-age prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and related ethics violations. He should loose his seat, and hopeful earn a prison sentence for it. Governor Christie will then appoint a replacement for the New Jersey Senator.

    This will leave open the position as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Narcotics Affairs, currently held by Menendez. You know Sen. Rubio would love that job.

  • I believe that Sen. Rubio’s desire to be President exceeds his commitment to political ideology. His ‘flexibiliy’ was fully demonstrated when he thought it expedient to stretch the truth about when his parents left Cuba only to be forced into a mea culpa after he was found out. To fortify his Latino base, he will have to align himself with the immigration bill most supported by that community. Odds are that will be the Obama version. He can’t afford to reject or be rejected by the Latino community if he hopes to be a viable candidate. This issue is the most important legislation for that voting block to come along in years. In fact, I predict that he will play a pivotal role in bringing his republican colleagues along with him. Once again, Obama will benefit from being in the right place at the right time. As this relates to Cuba, because this issue is so much bigger than the antiquated politics of south Florida, matters related to Cuba will take a back seat so that the greater good with regards to the emerging Latino vote will be served, whatever that means.

  • That’s rich. How do you claim to be pro-Cuban while supporting express detentions, secret police beatings, and repudiation rallies? These human rights violations occur and the express direction of the Castros. To deny that they occur is simply being dishonest.

  • One cannot be pro-Cuban while supporting the dictatorship which has oppressed that nation for the past 54 years.

  • You cannot be ‘pro-Cuban’ while supporting the embargo and other hostile US policies towards Cuba. That’s indeed a paradox.

  • That’s an interesting analysis. Your prediction that Sen. Rubio will support whatever bipartisan immigration reform bill that looks like it will pass is perhaps somewhat overly optimistic given the two parties have been loath to work with each other for the past 8 years, especially the past four. More likely, the Democrats and Republicans will each introduce their own bills, arguing strenuously how very different they are and how much better their own is. In reality the bills will be very similar. The House will pass one, the Senate will pass the other and a reconciliation committee will merge the two. But the end result will be the same, and close to your prediction.

    The Cuban government has been skilled at manipulating the US government to their advantage. But the effect of this manipulation has been minimal because of the huge power differential between the US and Cuba. At the end of the day, a small change in US policy toward Cuba can have a huge effect on Cuba, while a significant change in Cuba’s polices have little effect outside Miami. The shifting demographics and voting patterns will make that effect even smaller.

    I expect a series of small policy changes on each side. Until the generational sea-change which will come when Fidel & Raul finally pass on, not much big will happen. But after that… who knows? I pray whatever does happen the transition will be peaceful and relatively painless for the Cuban people who have suffered far too much for far too long.

  • You may be right, but explicitly denying return for five years is acknowledging that Cubans are economical migrants instead of a political exile. What I’d do is remove all laws specifically targeted to Cubans and treat them as the rest of the word: keep the privileges for political refugees and treat the rest as regular emigrants.

    In any case, Cuba for once did the right thing, the ball is entirely on US court; if they want to keep playing their cold war game, so be it, but the rest of the world will know that is the US government the one restricting the migrant freedoms and playing politics with the Cuban exile.

  • There is no paradox here. Anti-Castro, pro-Cuban supporters such as myself, are wan to give heaping praise to the Castros for giving back a right they should have never taken away. Moreover, these reforms, while better than nothing are still not enough to restore full economic and political freedom to Cuba. As far as the extremists like Ros-Lehtinen, their agenda has more to do with the changing political landscape in south Florida and less to do with Cuban emigres. More and more recent Cuban emigrants are voting Democratic. Efforts to stem the flow of new Cuban emigrants reflects this new political reality.

  • Fernando , I disagree. The Obama administration will no doubt send an immigration reform bill to Congress sooner rather than later. Included in these reforms will be language extending the CAA ‘adjustment period’ to five years. Cubans seeking naturalization through the CAA will be denied legal licenses to visit Cuba for five years. Keep in mind, this immigration reform will establish a road to citizenship for all immigrants through education and marriage and other traditional means. (family hardship, work history, etc.) Obama will agree to include this change in his immigration bill to satisfy the Cuban congressional delegation and garner their republican support. In particular, Sen. Rubio will support whatever bipartisan immigration reform bill that looks like it will pass given his Presidential aspirations and his need to fortify his Latino base. Bottom line, the Castros immigrations reforms did not deal a mortal blow to the CAA, more like a concussion.

  • “What’s more, it is extremely paradoxical that those who criticized the
    Cuban government for restricting immigration are those who are now
    questioning its relaxation of restrictions, just as it’s paradoxical
    that those who demanded Havana allow its citizens the freedom to travel
    are now requesting that Washington shut the doors.”

    The US is not known for political consistency. Specially from fanatics like Ros-Lehtinen.

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