Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, Feb 27 — This past Wednesday night I received an email that had been sent out to numbers of people from a diligent Cuban-American cultural entrepreneur. It was a call from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington for the holding of a meeting with Cuban emigrants in the United States.
The document suffered from that aseptic style that afflicts diplomatic communications, particularly those of Cubans in when it comes to the issue of migration. Its narcissistic style that enjoys its own aim for accuracy, so as to leave no room for interpretation, at least among trained readers.
The message wasn’t addressed to all migrants, only to those who “are linked to their country in a respectful manner and are conscious of the urgency of defending its sovereignty and national identity.”
The meeting’s agenda vaguely referred to “the normalization of relations between the nation and its emigrants, the effects of the US posture of hostility, as well as the blockade against Cuba and its manipulation in relation to the issue of immigration, and the situation of the “five anti-terrorist fighters unjustly imprisoned in the United States.”
To dispel any doubt about who was being selected to attend, the message noted that the Interests Office itself would choose them and send out the invitations.
Of course, this document might raise many questions for any uninformed reader, particularly if one respects the universal norms that govern global migration processes and the responsibilities that issuing countries must abide by in relation to their citizens living outside their jurisdictions.
These standards, incidentally, are the result of advances in the notion of citizenship, the rights of these nationals and the relationship between the state and the citizen. However these are standards which the Cuban government doesn’t abide by.
The conference has been called in this way, repeating the same authoritarian, exclusivist, discriminatory and anti-national pattern as its predecessors, particularly the four that have taken place since 1994.
No room for doubt
Nothing seems to have changed.
Even the title of the announcement is contradictory. They talk of “the Nation and Emigration,” as if both were to participate.
The reality, though, is that it’s difficult to recognize the Cuban government as a legitimate representative of the nation, the same way that one cannot limit emigrants to a group of people whose selection is based on their ideological and emotional closeness to that government.
This is not a case of the nation and its emigrants meeting, but of a government of dubious legitimacy that fails to submit itself to electoral scrutiny and only one part of an acquiescent fragment of its emigrants whose sociological and ideological composition differ materially from that of the overall emigrant population.
Therefore, we should point out that Cuba is not only a high volume source of emigrants at the global level, but that its immigration policies make it an source of politicized emigrants par excellence due to its own politics of banishment, economic extortion and limitations of all types that the government imposes on its emigrants.
Moreover, the title of the conference establishes a terrible dichotomy between the “Nation and Emigration.” They are two different things in dialogue, and only one of them is the nation.
So even though Cuban emigrants finance a good part of household consumption in Cuba, are asked to invest, are producers of what we call Cuban culture, etc., they are seen as an external appendage to the body of the nation.
The issue remains exactly as was defined by ousted Foreign Minister Perez Roque, who in 2008 spoke in terms of “neither schemes nor Manichaeism” and said “To emigrate is a right, to establish ones residence abroad is a decision for each individual,” which contrasts with another evidently superior statement: “To experience hardships and dangers, but also the satisfaction of defending the homeland here…is an entirely voluntary act, a personal decision.”
True interests cloaked
In reality, what the Cuban government is doing is the same thing that, according to Julio Cesar Guanche, what a Havana rapper does: regurgitate the secular ideological content of the revolution in retreat while throwing a cover loaded with patriotic emotions over the concrete and thorny problems of the nation.
Obviously, though, Guanche’s rapper has to do this with more grace and rhythm than the grotesque former foreign minister, who after so conscientiously interpreting the wishes of Fidel Castro ended up “intoxicated by the honey of power.”
If Cuban officials are now returning to the issue of immigration, it’s because they desperately need the money and the participation of emigrants in the capitalist restructuring of Cuban society and for the post-revolutionary bourgeois elite.
Because of this, where we want to see one part of the nation, the Cuban government sees emigration different from that. Where we want to see citizens with rights — even the meager rights that ordinary Cubans possess — the government sees remittances, tourists and investors.
Where we want to see a bridge for understanding, the Cuban government would rather see the formation of a political lobby to achieve access to the American market.
All of this poses a serious political challenge, and also moral one, to those who decide to participate in this meeting with a pre-set agenda.
The Cuban government is going to expand participation to people other than the members of those associations adopted by Cuban embassies. It needs to. But these will be momentary acts of cooptation that do not imply qualitative change, only a utilitarian extension of the fingerboard.
Those who agree to participate, from my point of view, are not crossing an ethical Rubicon, nor are they turning into un-presentable politicians. But if one attends, they should know that they will be legitimizing a process that won’t lead to normalization but to the perpetuation of separation, ostracism and exploitation of emigrants by a parasitic and authoritarian state.
They should know, no matter what their present intentions, that they are legitimizing discrimination.
If the Cuban government really wants to do something different it should give up control over the composition of this meeting, open up the agenda for discussion and finally promise some type of mechanism that links the meeting’s agreements and state’s policies to be adopted.
We must demand this through all through the means we have.
I repeat what I said before: Either we direct our actions and demands above the scaffolding, or we will end up — despite our intentions — propping it up.
(*) Originally published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.