Cuba: Running Up Against the Church

Fernando Ravsberg*

The emigre writer Uva de Aragon in Havana. (Photo by Rachel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES, April 26 — The Cuban Catholic Church organized a discussion last weekend on the reintegration of the diaspora into Cuba. Those participating included a group of leading intellectuals in exile, scores of scholars from the island, as well as religious believers and lay people.

The event was the first of its kind that wasn’t organized by the Cuban government, despite the participants having discussed the economic, legal and cultural aspects of a possible coming together of Cuban émigrés and those living on the island.

Following the negotiations that ended with the release of all prisoners of conscience and more than 3,000 common criminals, the clergy now seems destined to mediate between Miami and Havana, apparently an effort backed by the government.

One participant at last week’s discussion was Uva de Aragon, who is a journalist, writer and deputy director of the Cuban Research Institute of Florida International University. She agreed to talk to me, even if it was “perhaps an indiscretion” since the event was closed to the press.

New Horizons for Emigrants

Uva said, “Cuba is in a time of change and there are many Cubans in the diaspora who would like to accompany it. Among us there is a great deal of economic and social capital and talent that can help the country in those changes.”

The writer feels that the economic reforms show new horizons for emigrants. “The creation of small businesses opens opportunities to create partnerships between Cubans abroad and those here,” she said in our conversation.

“Everyone has relatives, and there are times when a small investment could start a business,” Uva explained, adding that this is already done informally but would increase substantially if there was “legal transparency and guarantees.”

She pointed out that “we would be able to invest but legally, in registered companies, with guarantees, where the partners would be clearly defined, with knowledge of what part belongs to each person and who are the owners – in black and white, like in the rest of the world.”

Uva doesn’t know how the Cuban government will take her recommendations. “Those things are always a process, but our role as academics is to imagine the future. However the mere fact that they’re giving this event is a good sign.”

Another cardinal issue was migration. “In Cuba they should make our lives less difficult. They overcharge for passports, visas and other formalities. It’s an important issue not only for us but also for those living on the island.”

In addition, she proposed that the announced immigration changes include “eliminating the permanent exit stamp, whereby Cuban citizens who spend more than 11 months outside of the country are unable to return to reside permanently on the island.

That discussion was based on the document “The Cuban Diaspora in the 21st Century,” prepared by academics both on the island and abroad and which analyzes the problems between the government and emigration as well as presents recommendations to Washington, Miami and Havana.

Although no official statements were made, everything appears that the government is welcoming emigrants to join in the changes. Raul Castro recently called them patriots and individuals in solidarity with Cuba, leaving in the past such labels as “gusanos” (worms) and “apatridas” (unpatriotic traitors).

Some people don’t need any persuading. Just weeks earlier the successful Cuban-American businessman Carlos Saladrigas gave a lecture in Havana and in the coming days a meeting will take place with emigrants at the Cuban Interests Section building in Washington.

The possibility of economically investing in Cuba is beginning to appear attractive and profitable for some businesses and also for hundreds of thousands of Cubans who might try to start businesses with family members within the country.

The anti-Castro politicians of Cuba and Miami are looking at all this dialogue with much concern. Should it turn out to be fruitful, they could be left outside of the decision making with very limited support and no ability to influence the future design of Cuban society.

Dissident Osvaldo Paya, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, said the organizers “are conspiring against true reconciliation and peace, which can only be achieved by respecting the rights of all Cubans, their freedom of expression and association, and free elections.”

Nonetheless, this political battle will be uphill for the opposition because this time it’s not about questioning the Cuban government but the Catholic clergy and their most prominent secular intellectuals. “We’ve run up against the church on this matter, Sancho,” Don Quixote would say.
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original posted by BBC Mundo.