A Fresh Look at Cuba’s Emigrants

Fernando Ravsberg

Some Cubans have set up new private businesses with money from family abroad. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, August 11 — In my previous post, the issue of Cuban emigrants in the United States came up again.  One devoted Cuban follower of this blog situated the figure for this group at around 2 million people.  Another of our readers informed me that “officially” there are 1.8 million.

I don’t question their honesty, but when I asked to find out these individuals’ sources, I learned their data came from anti-Castro blogs and Miami newspapers, all with very clear political interests.

Migration is used as evidence of the failure of the revolution, but for that propaganda to be effective it’s necessary to manipulate the figures in such a way that the percentage of people having emigrated from Cuba is greater than for any other Latin America country.

This explains why many people don’t consult the US Census Bureau, which manages the official data publicly.  A colleague from Miami did this and they sent him the figure for Cuban immigrants, meaning people born in Cuba but who are residents in the United States.

In 2009, according to this source, the number of Cuban immigrants in the US was of 991,385 people, which represents less than 8 percent of the population of the island and no less than half the figure cited by our reader.

Not even adding the children and grandchildren born on American soil can you reach the 2 million people, because the census reports that the total number of people of “Cuban origin” who resided there a couple of years ago to be 1,589,757.

It’s true that emigrants have also settled in other countries, but their number is tiny compared to those who opted for the USA, the only developed country whose laws treat them as political refugees.

This treatment is provided despite the fact that a third of Cuban-Americans went on vacation to the island in 2010, making one question the idea that they’re a community of persecuted political exiles of communism.

Migration ping pong

But the falsehoods around those who emigrate don’t come from a single side.  For decades they were called “worms” or “scum” and — even if this involved the most decent person in the world — the desire to leave Cuba was enough to see them subjected to the most extreme denigration.

One of the most questionable immigration episodes occurred in 1980, during the massive exodus of Cubans from the Mariel port.  Thousands of individuals were harassed, insulted and had eggs thrown at them by other Cubans for wanting to leave the country, despite them having been authorized by the government to do so.

Nonetheless, I have the impression that today no one is proud of having participated in those “meetings of repudiation.”  In all the years that I’ve lived in Cuba, I’ve never found a single person who admitted to having thrown eggs at those who left.

Now the truth is beginning to open the way.  President Raul Castro has just recognized something momentous: “Almost all (emigrants) preserve their love for the family and for the homeland that saw them born, and they manifest different forms of solidarity toward their compatriots.”

Days later a provincial newspaper published the article “We Are All Cuba.” It affirmed that “for the youth, as the current builders of the revolution, this is the opportunity to begin the process of the normalization of relations between the Cuban people, those within and outside of Cuba.”

The first concrete step is greater flexibility in travel by Cubans from the island and also for those who emigrated.  This would be “a contribution to strengthening the ties of the nation with the community of emigrants,” as Raul Castro explained.

Meanwhile, a part of the Cuban community abroad continues refusing to accept the existence of changes in Cuba and remains committed to trying to overthrow the revolution, as they’ve done for half a century.

Notwithstanding, many emigrants have begun sending money to their relatives to buy houses, automobiles and create businesses.  Important Cuban-American businesspeople are even waiting to be able to invest on the island.

The distrust is mutual and massive.  The road will be long and complex, but if everyone decides to pave it with truth, this could lead them to Marti’s ideal of building a nation “with all and for the well-being of all.”

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

8 thoughts on “A Fresh Look at Cuba’s Emigrants

  • Most countries have honor guards at embassies and key government offices (some not just honorary). Have you ever seen the British changing of the guard at Windsor Palace? You must not have been i Cuba for a long time if you think the honor guards at embassies still carry AK47s. Do you know of even one incident when someone was shot and killed by one of these honor guards? No, the only ones killed were the ones who got in the way of those who planned to get to the Land of Milk and Honey where [they thought] the streets were paved with gold.

  • Kareb

    I have some questions for you.

    Why do you think the cuban regime places “honor guards” around embassies in cuba?
    Armed with AK 47 and with orders to shoot anyone?
    Why? Have you asked yourself such questions or are you trying to pass it under the rug?

    Why do people need a permit to enter of leave their own homeland?

  • “Karen Lee Wald” Aug 12 09:44AM -0700 ^

    Ravsberg’s figures disputing anti-revolutionary propaganda based on figures of Cubans in the US — and their reasons. The figures of Cubans in the US are grossly inflated (compare them to census figures); they are also deceptive because the number is compared to the total on the island without taking into account that these are people who emigrated during a span of more than 50 years (and often includes their children and grandchildren born in the US) — which of course makes them look like a much greater percentage of the number of Cubans on the island at any given time. But it would be a much smaller percentage if you compared that number to the total who had lived and died on the island during that whole period. He also notes,as have many others, that their reasons for leaving are far different than they were during the first decade. An indication of this is that “one out of three Cuban-Americans vacationed on the island in 2010”, says Ravsberg…[meaning anything from visiting family to checking out future business possibilities, presumably].
    Where I would disagree with Ravsberg is in his complete re-writing of history regarding attitudes towards Cubans who left. While it is true that both the reasons for departures and the attitudes towards those who leave have changed considerably, I don’t think that justifies belittling, much less denying, the reasons for the hostile attitudes towards those who left in the first decades — which were complex and varied over time but were in many ways authentic. Cubans who left in the 60s and 70s were generally viewed as anything from those who aggressively bolstered Batista’s dictatorship to those who benefited from it economically, along with those misled by US propaganda into believing they were saving themselves or, worse, their children from the evils of communism. Or those who simply were taking advantage of the situation to garner a more comfortable life for themselves in the wealthy USA, while their compatriots were shedding blood and sweat to create a better world on their island. But to understand the attitudes of those who stayed towards those who left in those times, remember the Bay of Pigs, Operation Peter Pan, the burning of schools, killing of teachers and literacy brigade members, random mortar attacks against coastal fishing villages, and on and on. Ravsberg tells us that Cubans today not only regret the “acts of repudiation” towards the Marielitos that occurred in 1980 and says no one today admits to ever throwing eggs at those who were leaving. But while Ravsberg is right that some of the people who left were normal, decent human beings who simply wanted to be reunited with family or make a better life for themselves, he notably leaves out the reasons for the strong emotions at that time. I don’t have time or space here to go into as much detail as I have on previous occasions (you might be able to google some of it) but one needs to be aware that the Mariel departure followed a series of violent acts (aided and abetted by the Peruvian and Venezuelan governments of that time, presumably at the instigation of the US) in which not-so-decent men took hostages — including children — to force their way into the embassies of those countries, where they were immediately granted asylum, despite having none of the characteristics recognized by international bodies for needing such asylum. When one group holding children in front of them as shields crashed a bus through an embassy gate, and another shot and killed a 19 year old from a rural province who was serving as an honor guard at the embassy, most people –not just Fidel — were really fed up. They agreed with Fidel’s comments, headlined in Granma, that these people were ‘escoria’ –people who neither worked nor studied at a time when there was full employment and the opportunity to study, free, to any level, in Cuba — who thought they could go have the easy life in the US and didn’t care who they harmed in their efforts to obtain this. They agreed that socialism can only be built by those willing to work hard, and that those who didn’t were welcome to leave –SHOULD leave. That was the basis of the “acts of repudiation”.
    Did those who took this opportunity to leave include some people who were not like that, who were actually decent, hardworking people who were caught up in the process for one reason or another? Sure. But they were certainly not the majority. And, I repeat, feelings were inflamed over the death of the 19-year old and the repulsive use of children as shields that had just occurred.
    So yes, we should be glad that things have evolved, that there is a more nuanced attitude towards those who have left and who leave today. But let’s not go so far as to forget what provoked those feelings before.
    I highly recommend that anyone who is not familiar with all this history get and read Kieth Bolender’s VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE; AN ORAL HISTORY OF TERRORISM AGAINST CUBA (Pluto Press, 2010, intro by Noam Chomsky US distributor Palgrave) and pass it on to others to read as well. [You can find reviews of the book at Truthdig.com and The Rag blog]

  • Michael, I disagree with his qualification of the diaspora as only economical.
    Yes it is part of the reasons but it is not the only reason that forced people to migrate.

    You have to believe me. It is a huge decision to exit your own homeland and especially knowing you may not be able to return.
    I remember when I returned in 98 to visit. Tears where coming out of my eyes while I was getting out of the plane. Very emotional. The majority of Cubans love their homeland and will wish something better for Cuba and we have been branded by them all this time as the last scum of the earth.

    You are right. Better later than never.

    Not too long here in an interview Erasmo did of me I mentioned

    ” I’d like to see a country where there didn’t exist any difference between those who are considered “revolutionary” and those who are “non-revolutionary,” and one where people gain importance not for their support of the ruling class but for their contribution to the solution of the problems that affect the people and the country. I think that the day will have to come when there will be no exclusions. Cuba belongs to all Cubans, and all of us Cubans are Cuba.”

    Those I am sure are not only my wishes. I am sure that are the wishes of the majority.

  • re: Raul’s statement Better late than never, Julio! As in the “Dream of the Red Chamber,” it sometimes takes a lifetime for scales, which have heretofore obsured vision, to fall off or disolve. What’s ironic is that this truth was always so obvious; almost right from the beginning it was the hope of a better economic life, the opportunity to obtain more goodies, which was the main motivator (not to lesseon that dissatisfaction and frustration with the mistakes of the social and political system was not also an important factor, too). Also, you have to admire those who remained behind, trying to make something better of their homeland through participating in the Revolution, as well as those who never left because in doing so, it would be like ripping out their soul, the very essence of their being. Still, it all seems to be coming together now, this joining of Cubans on the Island and in the diasphora, and the recognition that they are all part of one, indivisible and inseperable family.

  • The article from a provincial news paper that Fernando is referring to is from Pinar del Rio.

    here is the original link it is very slow connection due to the internet difficulties of Cuba and the second link is a copy of the article on a faster outside server



    With regards to Raul’s statement

    “Almost all (emigrants) preserve their love for the family and for the homeland that saw them born, and they manifest different forms of solidarity toward their compatriots.”

    my question is.
    Why did it take them so long to realize this?

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