Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES – Even allowing for the fact that politicians are held in low regard all over the planet, you would expect something better from a person with the rank of foreign minister in Cuba. A bit of class and polish from someone who is the face of the State for the outside world, Cuba’s shop window if you like.
And so, when I read the fawning report about a meeting of Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (BR) with a group of emigrants – the “patriotic and respectful” – elected to the Cuban delegation at the United Nations, I was seized by a fit of what I can only term national shame and embarrassment
And not just because BR is the foreign minister and you expect a modicum of sophistication from someone in his position, but since he is also a young and upcoming politician, you would expect some sign of innovation from him if not a little spark suggesting a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
But none of this happened at the NY meeting where Bruno flogged the same old horse, the same old arguments, passing up the chance to convince us with his rhetoric, putting a brave face on things when the ‘ patriotic and respectful. ” presented their proposals.
As a monologue it was replete with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods, a firework display behind which the beleaguered FM tried to hide the enormous problems Cuba’s political elite is facing in trying to come to terms with the proposed -and long-delayed – immigration reform.
A monologue which subsumes the underlying dissention, the tactical approach say, on how best to milk immigration economically, using it like a cash cow as at present, or dabbling in more obvious forms of capital yield, like direct investment.
But also the agreement, strategy if you like, on how to conceive of immigration in terms of utility rather than of rights. And while we can presume they will have to move on civil rights eventually – if the word modernization is to be used at all – they will only do so as timely administrative concessions, not de jure recognition.
For example, Bruno says about the amount of capital the country needs and that the immigrants lack, is a pointless soliloquy which everyone except the reporter seems to have ignored.
Every municipal technocrat in Cuba knows the country needs a hundred million, one hundred thousand, one hundred dollars. In its insatiable financial hunger, it needs it all, to invest on a grand scale, small scale or simply just to survive.
Unless the foreign minister is autistic, he must know these one hundred thousand dollar investments are the “seed money” for the many small and medium sized businesses that are the only source of job growth on the island today.
But beyond all this, the key problem is that the right of Cubans to invest in their country cannot depend on how much money they have at their disposal. Their money gives them the possibility of investing it on a larger scale, buying a yacht or travelling first class but it shouldn’t give them legal advantages over people with less money.
That would be like a return to the early nineteenth century and its censorious systems. Economic wealth cannot be the basis of law. That is something that appears to have slipped BR’s notice and has been ignored by those respectful, patriotic Cubans.
The same is true with the sack of Cuban goodies and the Cuban baddies. In the first bag are the respectful, nationalist Cubans allowed to return from time to time with the all-telling stamp on their passport that Foreign Minister Bruno thinks is a revolution in immigration policy.
In the second bag are the Batista torturers (are any still left?), the terrorists and the supporters of the blockade/embargo. And to keep this bunch (“recalcitrant” the reporter calls them with a nod to BR’s speech) at arm’s length, they are denied the right to enter the country, one and all, without distinction.
This is absurd and wrong. Firstly because I know of dozens of cases of Cubans who have never been terrorists or Batista supporters or torturers, or even supporters of the Helms Burton Law who are not allowed to visit the country of their birth, either because they do not get the customary stamp or because they get turned back at the airport, stamp or no stamp.
But even if they were in the wrong, and again I go back to the question of the sources of civil rights, it is not legitimate to expropriate the inalienable rights of people generally to prevent some others from exercising those rights.
If the Cuban government considers a national guilty of a punishable offense, they should hand him over to the courts when he enters the country, not prevent the entrance of some two million people wanting to visit or return to live on the island they were born on.
And when it does choose to prosecute, we have to discuss whether supporting the Helms Burton Law is a crime or not, a political mistake in my view, but not a legal transgression.
And by the way, and here I am following the logic of FM Bruno, just take by way of comparison the punishment merited by – if we want to talk about them – the repressive, abusive thugs which Cuba’s political regime has abundantly fostered.
Finally we need to get things into proportion. Smashing Juanes albums on Calle Ocho in Miami is a diversion for wayward youth compared with besieging the houses of opponents, using physical and verbal violence against them and taking them and keeping them at police stations for varying periods, all of them illegal.
In summary, the foreign minister’s soliloquy should make us think with greater seriousness and commitment about the call for immigration reform. It is not a question of enthusiastically applauding every little move the Cuban government makes in its usual miserable fumbling of the political process
The only path that can lead to normalization in the relationship between the Government and emigrants is by returning the expropriated rights of citizens and allow full freedom of movement to Cubans.
To enter, exit and to move within their own country, Cubans, regardless of their ideology or political preferences, are entitled to live in the country of their birth, to comment and participate in public activities in accordance with the law. And even, to change laws by democratic means. Party affiliation should not be a source of citizens’ rights.
I frankly think that limiting our demands to a few superficial points where rights and permissions are equated and confused, is an erroneous simplification of a much more complex issue.
Cuba is already a transnational society and should be viewed as such. There is no other way of handling the complex future of the island or its far-flung diaspora. Whether Foreign Minister Bruno and his court of respectful patriots are aware of this or not is of no consequence. The most important thing now is that we understand it and act accordingly.
(*) Published originally by Cubaencuentro.com.