Starting today in Havana, more than 450 Cubans émigrés from 42 countries (among them 200 residents from the United States) will hold the “Conference against the Blockade of Cuba by the United States and in Defense of National Sovereignty,” reported Cuba’s Prensa Latina news agency.
Representing 106 associations of Cuban residents in nations on the five continents, they will agree on actions based on their geographical areas and will seek to propose themes of common interest and importance to the Cuban nation.
Such an exchange with Cubans from all corners of the world is very good, particularly for those who emigrated with their nation. This is part of a process of normalization —albeit extensive and uneven— that began at the end of the 1970s and accelerated with the increase of emigration (and with their economic weight, expressed by remittances) as a result of the 1990s crisis.
This makes me recall the schmaltzy song “United, united despite of everything, always friends” that was broadcast over Havana’s Radio Progreso in 1994 and 1995 to announce the first of these conferences. It sounded so strange to many people (including myself), accustomed to hearing the demonization of emigrants.
If this conference translates into true dialogue, and not a monologue or secret meetings of the privileged, the forum will discuss issues of the normalization of immigration, which is a concern to most Cubans and whose reform is a matter under the exclusive authority (in the sense of power and capacity) of the Cuban state.
Several Issues Should Be Discussed
Discussion is needed around a number of issues. For example, while Cuba has its “Immigration Law” it is exceedingly lax. In practice it is substituted by an immigration “policy” with regulations that are generally unknown, un-appealable and decided upon and modified in an ad hoc fashion based on political circumstances. This leaves citizens planning to go on temporary visits or to emigrate to another country in positions of great unawareness and with little protection.
There also must be discussion of why there remain on the books formerly justifiable laws that were designed to redistribute the properties of the rich who emigrated after the revolutionary victory, but which today are applied to people who were born in the new order and who have nothing to do with counter-revolution.
On account of these laws, if someone emigrates legally they lose their possessions and rights (included that of inheritance). Even those who lived with the emigrant in a home must begin to pay the value of that property from scratch, even when it had been a property owned by their family. Exempted from such dispossession are cases in which one obtains the highly sought-after Permiso de Residencia en el Exterior, which most emigrants do not possess – including those who live in the US.
People who travel overseas temporarily, who want to return and today send money to maintain their families, suffer from the regulations presently in force. A friend, currently under scholarship at a foreign university, lost her right to return to her country when she lacked the money to pay for costly overseas stay permits, which were more than even the cost of her airplane ticket.
This expense rose to more than what was foreseen and what she could save, that is what was left over after the costs of her own support and the amount devoted to helping her family. In the end she lost her rights and property and will have to wait five years before she can return.
Similarly, another friend must pay twice the price of the desktop computer that she planned to give to her aunt, an exemplary communist and an emeritus researcher at a state institution.
In addition, nationals who return to the country, as opposed to foreigners, have to pay excess-weight charges once they disembark, which is irrational since this rate is paid to the airline before boarding based on the cost of fuel and space that the excess load takes up.
Foreign Ministry Promises Frank Exchange
Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez said the meeting will give continuity to the frank and direct exchanges between émigrés and Cuban authorities to continue advancing toward increasingly stable and normal relationships with those who emigrated from their homeland.
This will be positive if this frankness is translated into some explanation for why there is an absence of discourse and action concerning the demand to do away with the Permiso de Salida (Exit Permit), an issue that has been discussed in broad national debates since 2007 and that has even motivated the creation of a Facebook group made up of Cubans on and off the island. (see http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=235298112982&ref=ss)
Rodriguez explained that the Cuban government recognizes, values and relies on the work of the Cuban residents outside the country who maintain an active attitude in defense of the homeland. He added that the fundamental component of the relationship between the nation and émigrés is direct dialogue, without intermediaries with those, who, in their majority, support the struggle of the Cuban people against the US blockade and support national independence.
Are there errors or omissions in this commentary? Isn’t it the Cuban State that itself acts as the middleman and representative of the nation…as the crucible of our sociology, culture and identity that surpasses the boundaries of a particular institutionalism? Should this reduce the agenda to the need for anti-imperialist solidarity and defense of an independent Cuba that our overseas compatriots want and must advance?
Could it be that the immigration policies in force do not evidence a devaluation and unawareness of the rights of people who decided to anchor their lives to the destiny of the island and its revolution? And don’t these policies continue to offer flanks that are vulnerable to capitalist ideological propaganda?
A Sovereign Nation Means Sovereign Citizenship
In the most recent congress of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), the distinguished Havana City Historian, Eusebio Leal, referred to our homeland in saying, “Cuba is like this, and anyone who tries to modify it, separate it, divide it or transform it into strange representations, leaves Cuba without the legacy of Marti.”
If one defends a sovereign nation, it’s necessary to defend the right to sovereign citizenship; the existence of the former without latter is at least an incongruity.
Through a political decision, today the émigrés attending the meeting have been given a platform that many compatriots don’t possess to raise their demands directly to the leadership of the country. I hope they know how to use it for the well being of the immense majority who are absent.