Cuba: Immigration, Love and Sex

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

The Party Is the Vanguard of the Revolution. Alamar. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 11 — Among the good things I’ve seen on the Internet recently is a dossier on Cuban immigration published by the Cuban magazine Espacio Laical.

I think that it’s highly commendable that the editors proposed discussing such a complex issue, offering diagnoses and even putting forward proposals that are more advanced than the utilitarian view that the Cuban government has adopted on this matter.  The magazine called on a select group of experts, some of whom are old friends of mine who I always recall with pleasure and respect.

All of them have brought their qualified opinions to the table to discuss the issue of immigration.  They have consistently challenged the official approach to emigrants, which describes them — according to the cases — as bêtes noires, docile sources of remittances or devoted partisans.

The magazine has presented a more expert view of emigrants (at least most of them) as subjects with rights and unconditional members of the Cuban nation.  All of this is an excellent starting point for figuring out where we want to go.

I sincerely recommend readers review this dossier.

One Costly Omission

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of his discussion is the diversity of opinions, ones revealing diverse personal experiences and no less diverse perspectives on the future.  But there are also remarkable agreements of opinion on the hot topics that are needed to generate consensus around a complex issue that will require much political energy in the future.

Street scene. Photo: Caridad

There is also a common omission that is suggestive, given the sheer diversity of the political positions of the participants.  This is an omission that seems to derive from the attachment of all of them (or at least almost all of them) to the idea of an orderly transition, which inevitably involves a discourse of reconciliation and harmony.

This is an omission that made me recall what Alan Wolfe said about liberals of the nineteenth century: Like Victorian romance novels, they spend all their time talking about carnal love without ever mentioning sex – though without sex, carnal love cannot survive.  There are specific instances in which the dossier more closely resembles a tender litany of good intentions than an objective analysis of a harsh reality.

Unfortunately this is costly omission because it results in sidestepping an explicit denunciation of Cuban immigration policy as a vast mechanism for the expropriation of the rights of Cubans, in addition to their repression, social coercion and financial abuse.

This is true both for Cubans on the island and for emigrants: the abduction of citizenship that emigrants suffer is the perfect counterpart to the incomplete citizenship endured by inhabitants of the island.

Yet it couldn’t be otherwise simply because time and other conditions are the results of a government that places itself above its citizens so as to manage their civil and political rights, which it confiscates, delegates and revokes according to the circumstances.

In the space available, I want to focus my comments on this omission and the consequences.

Hidden behind the Cuba/USA dispute

Firstly, I would like to discuss the manner in which the issue of immigration is discussed in relation to the Cuba/USA dispute.  I’m afraid that in this sense most of the analysts did the same as what official Cuban academics has been doing for decades: dissolving immigration in a manner that prefers this other relationship – one that is as conflictual as it is unevenly matched between the two states.  But by so doing, they obstruct the path for a debate around the issue.

Havana generations. Photo: Caridad

People who know me know my critical position of US policy toward Cuba, both in the early days of the Revolution — when it actually was one — and now, with there no longer being any revolution to speak of.

The United States has committed deplorable acts against the Cuban nation, it’s true, but all of those together fail to justify even one of the arbitrary measures taken by the Cuban government (many of them still in force) against its emigrant population.

From my point of view, even at the worst moment in its confrontation with hostile US policies, the Cuban government should have assumed a more responsible position with respect to immigration.

It is a fact that the US used immigration as a counterrevolutionary interventionist weapon, but what is even truer is that no government has the right to decree the permanent departure of a citizen from their country of birth.

But since the 70’s, when those who wanted to leave were not the alleged “pro-imperialist ruling classes,” but purely from “the people” and with nothing indicating that they were inevitable external dangers, government irresponsibility became an abhorrent political crime.  Since then the Cuban state has effectively manipulated the immigration issue for all types of purposes, ones related to both domestic and foreign policy.

They have used the files and records of wild waves of immigration for political purposes and against the security of their own population.  They have used potential emigrants as the targets of street demonstrations and to fan nationalism.

Bread and people. Photo: Caridad

They have manipulated immigration to construct Manichean stereotypes and to present these to uninformed people as the natural enemies of the “homeland.”  Added to this, what might be even most despicable is that the immigration issue has become a mechanism for the financial exploitation of emigrants and for imposing certain unwarranted obligations on them, among other aspects of this complex and tragic situation that has brought so much suffering to Cuban society.

At present there exist no national security reasons that can be used to explain the limitations on the right of people to free movement or for nationals to return to their places of birth.

This is especially so when we recall how “national security” has been defined unilaterally by an unchallengeable authoritarian elite that for over five decades has exposed Cuban society to enormous dangers (which included coming close to triggering nuclear conflagration, participating in overseas military conflicts that didn’t involve us, and leading the country into an economic catastrophe with an approach that still hasn’t overcome mass poverty).

Veritable immigration hostages

There should not exist limitations on people’s right to emigrate based on political or professional grounds.  It’s not possible to maintain an immigration policy that sequesters a doctor or nurse who has studied in the country and has fulfilled their social service obligation.

This is simply because the professional who studied in Cuba didn’t do it for free, and no fairy godmother called “the revolution” paid the expenses.  Their family members paid with their work, from which the state-employer extracted the financial gain.  Taking this level of effort to appear conciliatory — and thus justifying restrictions on the rights of our compatriots — doesn’t seem very considerate to me.

Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

But what is even less considerate is to ask emigrants to focus their attention on urging the governments where they reside to adopt better positions in their relations with the island — or to demand the US government to cease all restrictions in this area — and to insist that they join the political campaigns of the Cuban government.

This is especially thoughtless when one takes into account that across the strait is a government with a terrible record of relations with its emigrants and that has announced a reform measure without taking the trouble to explain what it means or to ask what is wanted by those who will be affected by it.

Although I have no doubt that there will be some type of “national consultation” with regard to this, we all know that it will be within the framework of acquiescent partisan meetings in which we will find the stamp of a government acting in the name of a nation without rights and where few individuals will stand up in the name of the marginalized emigrant population.

The status of Cuban emigrants

Finally, one question that I found very interesting was the issue of the status of Cuban emigrants, which is vital to understanding the essence of this process and where to begin looking for solutions.

It’s true, as some say, that with all immigration there are economic and political factors that mix.  So when any Cuban emigrant leaves — just like any Guatemalan — they are fleeing poverty or a lack of prospects.  But they are also escaping the political system that protects those conditions that are so adverse to their personal development.

Havana Angel

This goes without mentioning the classic exiles, meaning those who had to leave Cuba for political, ideological and cultural reasons whose existence as individuals was endangered.

This all makes each Cuban emigrant an exile in some manner.

But beyond this generality, I think what distinguishes the vast majority of Cuban emigrants is that they are banished.  This is not, as some of the analysts suggested, because they cannot return to a Cuba that no longer exists or due to their living in the nostalgia of another Cuba.  Instead, it’s because many of them simply can’t return to the Cuba that exists today.

And if they maintain the image of a Cuba that doesn’t exist, it’s not because they are more conservative or backwards than Dominicans and Salvadorans; rather, it’s because they have no updated version that will allow them to validate their vision of the homeland that emigrants all yearn for.

Here, rhetorical intricacies don’t fit.  Cuban emigrants are people whose entire bodies have been expropriated.  When they leave they lose everything.  Everything is stripped from them – from the meager properties that ordinary Cubans can have to the no less meager civil rights that the constitution gives them.

And even when they receive authorization to return to the country of their birth, the vast majority know this can only be done under certain conditions (for a few days out of the year, paying exorbitant fees for consular services and abiding by government canons of proper political conduct).

The exceptions are those people who belong to a privileged minority; for example, an artist or a writer who is a signatory of the castrating covenant of UNEAC (Cuban Artists and Writers Association) and is thereby protected by what someone called the “political maturity” of the minister of Culture.

Emphasizing transition, not order

I’m not an advocate of labeling the present with pieces of history, but I fear that if we speak of immigration with a vocation that is patriotic and in accord with the ideas of Jose Marti, we’ll have no choice but to remember that the main task of Marti while in exile was to organize the Necessary War against Spanish tyranny – and he did that in the name of love for the homeland, which he defined as eternal hatred of those who oppress it.

Of course I’m not recommending any war, it’s only metaphorical device.  I too support an orderly transition, like Espacio Laical, and apparently like all those who participated in the forum.  But unlike the magazine, and possibly differing from some of the illustrious commentators, I emphasize the transition, not the entrenched order of an authoritarian system behind whose socialist tirades its members are transforming themselves into the post-revolutionary bourgeois elite.

And so, at the risk of sounding impudent, when I speak of love I’m obliged to mention sex.

Published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.