HAVANA TIMES — The children of émigrés spend their summer break in Cuba, Cuban-Spaniards travel back and forth between the island and the old continent, flying next to people who sell cellular phones and computers, retired persons who “stretch” their pensions by living part of the time on the island and those who simply avail themselves of the advantages of double residency.
Only a few years ago, one would have been hard pressed to hear phrases like “our children are safer in Cuba,” “I’ve moved back to Cuba to go to university,” “my retirement goes a lot farther in Havana,” “why would I spend all my time in the United States when I can come and go as I please?”, “I get by up north by selling stuff in Cuba.”
The lifting of travel restrictions by Washington and Havana is facilitating greater and more frequent contact between Cubans living at either side of the Florida Strait. The laxer travel legislation is depriving emigration of its more dramatic qualities and helping normalize family relationships.
Maria Luisa’s nephews, Austin (6) and Aaron (9), spend their summer break in Cuba with their grandparents because “in the United States, we’re all just too busy, we don’t have much time for them and the kids stay home playing videogames that aren’t very good for their health.”
Their family lives in a very humble neighborhood in Havana, but “we’re not afraid for them, because even the neighbors look after them,” Maria Luisa tells us, adding that “safety is one thing there’s no shortage of there. In Cuba, there are no drugs or guns, let alone kidnappings. That’s the kind of fear you live with here.”
Young Maria Luisa lives with her sister in the United States, but believes that “the best gift you can give a child is another child. They have all sorts of toys here but no one to play with. In Cuba, they’re happy playing with their friends, with a balled-up rag and any old stick to bat with. They always have the time of their lives there.”
Maria Luisa tells us her nephews enjoy their break on the island, but that “when it’s time to pack up and leave, when they have to leave their friends behind in Cuba, they leave with tears in their eyes, dying to go back there next summer.”
Cuba’s “Johns” and “Peters”
Revolico and Porlalibre are Internet pages where Cubans advertise and sell all types of products, most of which are brought to the island from abroad. You find real bargains there, where a laptop computer can be found for less than what you would pay at a store in New York.
Some of these products are brought to Cuba by a “John”, a young Cuban-born émigré living in the United States. “I buy them in bulk and re-sell them in Cuba afterwards.” This is such a profitable business that Johns are able to live on the electronic merchandise they sell in Cuba.
In addition to “Johns”, Cuba is now seeing the “Peters”, tens of thousands of Cubans who reside on the island and have acquired Spanish citizenship. “Before, my sister in Miami would bring the goods and money, but now I get to travel quite often and help her out,” a 60-year-old “Peter” tells me.
“Juanita”, this particular Peter’s sister, has already had a house built in Havana and plans on living there on her husband’s pension, saying this pension “goes farther” there. They are not a rare exception. Webpages of the Cuban émigré community are already warning Cuban-American pensioners that to reside in Cuba on a US pension constitutes social insurance fraud.
Travel between the two countries is increasing every year. Over 400 thousand émigrés visit Cuba, while tens of thousands of Cubans residing on the island obtain visas to travel to the United States and will soon be able to secure a multiple permit that will allow them to travel freely for a 5-year period.
This rapprochement between Cubans living on the island and in Miami does not include a number of politicians, who continue engaged in an ideological war. Part of the anti-Castro leadership is proposing that the legislation that restricted travel to the island and the sending of family remittances be imposed on Cuba again.
Things have gotten so tense that some Cuban-American deputies have even called for the elimination or restriction of the Cuban Adjustment Act, in order to prevent émigrés from enjoying the benefits of double residency.
Havana’s policy towards hardliners in the émigré community has also remained unchanged: none of its activists are given an entry permit and they continue to be called a “terrorist mafia” and accused of being behind some of Washington’s more aggressive stances towards Cuba.
Beyond the political diatribes, the truth of the matter is that President Obama’s decision to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba and the laxer migratory legislation passed by Raul Castro’s government have created exceptional conditions for bringing Cubans on the island and abroad closer together.
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.