HAVANA TIMES — I’ve always had reservations about wide-encompassing categories and adjectives, but that hasn’t kept me from using them. These are unavoidable, particularly in journalism.
Is there one form of anti-Castroism, or several? There is only one if we stick to a bottom-line definition: opposition to the regime of the Castro brothers. There are many if, beyond that principle, one establishes an agenda or prescribes a way of thinking, acting or feeling that responds to a number of patterns – more or less known, well or poorly defined, and strictly obligatory – that transform a position, or, better, an attitude towards a political fact, into dogma. That’s when one becomes a fanatic, or, what’s worse adopts criteria out of sheer convenience.
In Cuba, this is called opportunism. In the Cuban émigré community, the word has gradually lost all meaning, and it is perhaps more appropriate to say that people adopt a kind of passivity, complacency and even complicity when it comes to the charlatan of the day, the neighborhood demagogue or the improvised leader – all in the interests of avoiding trouble.
The crux of the problem may lie in that tendency towards extremism that still predominates in Cuba and the émigré community, where the line dividing Castroism and anti-Castroismo is either missing or extremely faint (not in terms of a definition, but in the ways in which people confront or address a contradictory or different position), words that, at any rate, often carry a kind of circumstantial weight.
The problem with these patterns of thought is that they do not prove very useful in terms of envisaging Cuba’s future.
True, it is safe to conclude at the moment that little or next to nothing will change in Cuba until the Castros are gone. But confusing a parenthesis with a final objective is misleading and becomes a source of mistakes and misfortunes.
Those of us who were born in Cuba have made noteworthy efforts to give new impetus to the sterile exercise of ignoring debate, relying on the facile formula of deriding other people’s values. Here and on the island, we believe ourselves to be in possession of the absolute truth. We reject one another totally, as though we only knew how to look in the mirror and praise ourselves.
On many occasions, we have postponed the considering of different opinions and have laid our bets on the “all or nothing.” Rather than debate or accept people’s differences, we have called for uniformity.
To paint the above as a black-and-white situation would be to commit the same crime we hope to condemn. Miami is neither as intransigent as people portray it nor as tolerant as it should be. To forget that it is generous with émigrés from the broadest range of places would be unjust.
The cause is to be found precisely in people’s place of origin. To be stubborn, to exaggerate and to insist on things are typical characteristics of émigrés, writes Edward W. Said when describing a condition that characterized him also. Through these attitudes, the expatriate seeks to compel the world to accept a vision of things that is his own, a vision “you make more unacceptable because, in fact, you are unwilling to have it accepted.”
This refusal to adopt a new identity, to restrict one’s gaze and preserve one’s lonesome experiences mark those who have suffered any kind of exile, regardless of their race or nation of birth.
The Cuban problem has become more complex over the years because the categories of exiles, refugees, expatriates and émigrés have become mixed in a single community.
Exiles are those who cannot return to the country of their birth – people who have been banished – while refugees are generally the victims of political conflicts. Expatriates are those who, because of personal or social reasons, opt to live in a foreign nation, and an émigré is anyone who emigrates to another country.
In Cuba’s case, these categories have been modified over recent years. Today, the majority of Cubans living abroad can travel to and leave the island without issue. We have seen an unquestionable transition from the condition of the exile to that of the expatriate, though, generally, people go back but do not return to Cuba.
This distance between going back and returning – for reasons ranging from political to economic and family considerations – is establishing a new identity characterized by a kind of dispersion that is far removed from what defined Cuban immigration during the second half of the past century. It is nothing more than the expression of a much larger phenomenon: the fading of the frontier between the island and Miami.
In this case, however, we are speaking of a recent tendency which still does not characterize the entirety of the émigré community, for a good part – or perhaps the larger part – of Cubans who live in this city fall under the category of exiles. For them, returning to their place of birth is still not a priority and probably never will be, as they will likely not live to see the changes they hope to witness in their country of origin (in addition to questions of habit and, of course, family in the broad sense).
Though not everyone “enacts” the condition of being an exile with the same force, that doesn’t keep people from adopting a “political code,” and that’s where anti-Castroism is at once unique and varied.
It is time to acknowledge that two simultaneous struggles are underway in Miami. One is aimed at the Castro regime and the other at the anti-Castro monopoly. These are not equal struggles, and I make no effort to compare them. The first is well defined. The second involves a debate among a broad range of criteria and continues to cling to an obsolete and unrealistic strategy that serves electoral interests only. What isn’t possible is to maintain one’s silence and patience before a position that serves only the interests of the few.
Part of the Cuban émigré community in Miami clings to the illusion that the Castro regime is in its dying throes. This is not the case. The original, revolutionary project has been exhausted, true, but its survival mechanisms remain intact. After the Castro brothers have gone, Cuba will begin a new stage. It will look back on over five decades of history (it is already doing so), but it will find it impossible to erase so many of the traces left behind – and there is no national or international will pushing in that direction.
If the model that still prevails on the island is obsolete, so are the anti-Castro ideas heard at street-corner cafés in Miami. To describe either of the Castro brothers as the devil incarnate is a sterile exercise if imagining the nation’s future is of interest to us. It is not a question of refusing to condemn the regime, but of underscoring the need to look past that.
Political blindness, a relentless and stubborn insistence on fueling the industry that glorifies Cuba’s republican past, still moves a number of people and offers emotional relief to those who refuse to listen to and see a world that no longer belongs to them, a world they have been left out of because of their arrogance and contempt.
Those who merely concern themselves with shoving aside all contradictory opinions and with looking the other way, faced with a nation that has been changing – for better or for worse – over the years, don’t have a difficult time in Miami. This trench-mentality finds justification in their frustrations and years of waiting, and it has helped produce an image that does not reflect Miami’s current reality.
In an exchange of reproaches and stereotyped portrayals, the US press has many a time opted to show only the more extreme situations and underscore the actions of those characters harboring values far removed from the civil traditions of this country. Émigrés have looked upon this with anger and condemnation, but they have also been reaffirmed by such portrayals.
This way, being left-wing in this city is identified with support for the Castros, while right-wingers enjoy the “advantages” of being free from all such suspicions. It doesn’t matter that thousands of right-wingers, reactionary types and even far-right dictators in Latin America, Europe and the rest of the world have expressed sympathies for the Castro regime and collaborated with it. These distinctions aren’t made in Miami.
The problem with these thought patterns are that they do not prove very useful in terms of envisaging Cuba’s future. For some, Fidel Castro – as weak and sickly as he may appear today – still acts as a kind of mirror that reflects certain actions and attitudes. For others, Raul Castro stands on his own two feet as a successor to his older brother. To a great and crucial extent, he is, but, for the time being, he has only managed to strike the difficult balance between repression and reform. It is true the former is constant and the latter is slow and vigorously restricted, but we mustn’t forget he has managed to remain afloat in a situation where resignation and patience combine, in the midst of ambivalent illusions that make it easier for him to evade any concrete commitment.
A more practical and humane definition of our ties to Cuba does not entail subjecting ourselves to its regime. It is a question of putting aside the junkyard dog attitudes and leaving behind all barricades, to move forward towards better civic ties between those who live there and here – setting aside, in other words, the tough-talking and empty forms of anti-Castroism.
(*) Originally published in Spanish from Miami by Cubaencuentro.