Haroldo Dilla Alfonso* (Photos: Caridad)
HAVANA TIMES — In late April, the so-called first meeting of Cubans living in the US was held in Washington, suspiciously convened by the island’s Interests Section.
It was said that a hundred delegates attended lectures and panel discussions on the Cuba situation and that this included the appearance of a deputy foreign minister who thanked them for their support and assured them that the US maintains its intention to overthrow what he called the “Cuban Revolution.”
The meeting was one of many similar ones — in Andalusia, Galicia, Belize, Bolivia — but as this one was taking place in the country where more than 80 percent of Cuban emigrants reside, and was in a context in which the island’s government is talking about “updating” its immigration policy, it wasn’t unreasonable to have expected some interesting results.
I don’t know the internal workings of the meeting. I don’t know what was discussed in detail, and there’s no doubt that it could have produced some interesting opinions or debate. But so far, from what is known from the description and the published document, the meeting must have been exceedingly boring and certainly disappointing for the overwhelming majority of the Cuban immigrants.
Almost all the conclusions contained in the statement issued relate to support for the Cuban government within the framework of itsconfrontation with its American counterpart.
The nation and the emigrant community
The conference seems to have been filled with redundant issues: Freedom for the five heros/spies, the end of US interference, the extradition of Posada Carriles to Venezuela, the removal of Cuba from the list of terrorist countries and, of course, the end of the blockade/embargo. Only one conclusion concerned the situation of migrants as a community.
Given that conclusion’s unique and very expressive character, I’m quoting it here:
“We appreciate the interest and willingness of the Cuban government to continue the humanitarian process of the relaxation of immigration regulations necessary for the unification of the Cuban family and to contribute to strengthening relations between the nation and the emigrant community.”
This means that the Cuban-Americans who went jubilantly to DC cheering for “willingness and interests,” which still have not appeared anywhere, wound up like someone applauding a stunt that has yet to occur.
They saw as a “humanitarian” process to reunite families, what in reality should be a process of the restitution of the inalienable rights to free movement and citizenship building.
And finally, in the finest officialist language, the government spoke of strengthening relations between the nation and the emigrant community, discussed as two distinct and separate elements. It wasn’t even phrased in terms of a nation with its emigrants, much less a single transnational society, which is what Cuba is right now.
A few weeks ago, when this call was issued, I wrote to express my opposition to limiting it to a group of émigrés politically and emotionally very close to the Cuban government or at least willing to cooperate in the “updating”after assuming that it’s better to work within than criticize from the outside.
Nonetheless, I also wrote that participation did not imply an ethical “crossing of the Rubicon,” since I assumed the invitation would be broader and the conclusions more stimulating.
However, after reading the brief document that was issued (so far the only one), I believe I should correct my assessment: Supporting or endorsing this document is in fact a breach of ethics and politics.
This didn’t involve critical nuances or degrees, but complete and utter satisfaction with a situation that’s deplorable for Cuban society. This is the granting of carte blanche to the Cuban government to continue its anti-national, exclusionary and discriminatory practices.
In itself, what this gathering of a hundred pro-government compatriots really does is of little relevance. I’m more interested in analyzing what this type of meeting means for the Cuban government and to what extent it helps us to evaluate the internal situation of Cuban politics.
Perceptions of the Cuban political elite
In this sense I think they are revealing huge fissures within the Cuban political elite, and those will in some manner break, preferably when the “founding fathers” disappear.
The Cuban political class feels that it needs emigrants. This is something they have not been wrong about since 1978. But it perceives their usefulness in two different manners.
For the bureaucratic sector — especially those established in the Communist Party — any step toward improved relations with the emigrants beyond these galas for followers poses an unacceptable “political/ideological”danger.
True to their miserly conception of life, they choose to continue sucking the emigrants dry financially by collecting remittances through fiscal mechanisms, price gouging and encouraging their visits, which are now a major component of tourism on the island.
For the technocratic/managerial sector connected with the military, the question is how to put the economic fortunes of emigrants in the service of economic recovery and of their own bourgeois conversion, mainly through investments. At the same time they are trying to form an anti-blockade/embargo lobby with Cuban-American business community from the very heart of Florida.
This means that, as one might suspect, the bureaucrats don’t want to change practically anything. It’s their natural tendency and they’re consistent. To achieve their purposes, however, the technocrats and the military are willing to make small concessions in support of the emigrants (such as reduced processing fees and the lengthening of the days on foreign travel permits) if it provides for a better platform for entering into substantial relations with the “overseas Cubans.”
In this there is concordance with the bureaucrat strata: all of the changes would always have an administrative sense, which is to say these would never include the effective restoration of rights to citizens.
This is because some as well as others perceive immigration restrictions as key to the security of the system. This can be affected through maintaining control over contacts, limiting the possibility of emigrants to return or forcing Cubans to behave well — both on and off the island — if they want to leave and/or enter.
I don’t think that much more is discussed today in the corridors of real political power.
Vases in the window
There are other manifestations of greater openness, usually appearing linked to intellectual figures associated with the elite — we can mention Silvio Rodriguez, Alfredo Guevara, Eusebio Leal, etc. — but these are only what in the spy movies would be called “vases in the window.”
This refers to the artifacts displayed by spies in visible places to indicate that everything is functioning well at the point of the meeting…indications of no problems on the radar, at least nothing crucial.
In practice, what is discussed is how much flexibility is essential for the oppressive scaffolding to better function economically without ceasing to operate politically.
And if this is so, the meetings that have been occurring in various parts of the world and end with the same song, including in DC, are nothing but a hardline position in the absence of consensus and decisions.
Moreover, these indicate the inability of a divided elite to summon people to discuss with other categories of emigrants beyond their supportive condottieri, entrepreneurs of bilateral relations and a few other characters who don’t represent much nor have a real capacity to influence the Cuban/American media.
Obviously no one expected this dialogue to extend to bands with greater anti-Castro political belligerencies, but between them and the boys who went to DC there’s a very wide range of people with civil rights claims that the Cuban leaders don’t know how to address.
Meanings and challenges
The bad thing is that for the moment little is going to change. Even if the technocrats impose their own viewpoints, which must eventually happen, I don’t think this will lead to the “updating”of immigration policy beyond quantitative changes that will mitigate the hardships endured by Cubans (and this is positive). But this will not bring us closer to the rule of law in this area.
There’s no reason to imagine that the plans of Cuba’s authorities include the free movement of Cubans within, to, or from Cuba.
The good news is that the Cuban political class has taken note of the need to include migration in its“updating.” This is good because it puts emigrants in a better position to negotiate their inclusion in a process that should lead, gradually, but clearly and unambiguously, to the full restoration of civil rights.
Of course they know how to do it and they don’t image that making little gestures is going to obtain substantial change.
Neither hardliner closing off to change nor deferential consensus can help solve this problem, one of the most serious facing Cuban society.
Emigration is a hotbed of family dissociations, frustration, suffering and distance that persists in function of an authoritarian and obsolete political regime.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com