Cuba’s Émigrés: The Absent Voice

Armando Chaguaceda

Silvio Rodriguez is outspoken about a need for a change in aspects of Cuba's immigration policy. Photo: Caridad

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.

Cuba's immigration policies are routine barbershop talk. Photo: Caridad

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.

Most Cubans would like to see a normalization of relations with emigrants. Photo: Caridad

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

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.

3 thoughts on “Cuba’s Émigrés: The Absent Voice

  • Excellant and informative article. I am glad to see this under discussion. Cuba is one of the very few countries that requires an Entry permiso for a Cuban to return to the Land of their birth. This is not only a form of Government control, but also a form of revenue for Cuba. Is this site available in Cuba for Cubans to see online? Even if it is I doubt many would spend much time here considering it costs $6-10 CUC per hour of Internet time. Would it not be possible for Cuba to dial back the rhetoric a little to gain further concessions from the US, particularly a New fibre optic cable from Key West to Habana? This would be the most logical move instead of the tremendously expensive proposed cable from Venezuela. I am particularly upset that the Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, uses terms such as “Arrogant, doesn’t listen, Imperial” to describe the US president Obama. This does not further any meaningful discussion, and He should tone it down , for the benefit of Cuba.

  • What obstacles are in the way of creating new laws, or modifying old ones, as they concern emigration? Most emigres from the 1990’s and 2000’s (and even many as far back as the 1980’s and late 1970’s) are primarily economic, rather than political, emigrees. Perhaps I am naive, or mis-informed, but can’t, as is the case here in the EE.UU., a representative from the National Assembly (Poder Popular) propose such modifications or new laws? Why are these changes bogged down for so long? After all, given the demise of the socialist camp, it is all the more critical for Cuba to facilitate remittances from its citizens abroad. It should be easier to depart, and return; many folks just want to travel, and see what it is like to live abroad for a while, in the great wide world; it need not be an either/or situation, a case of forever abandoning one’s homeland. Besides, one never really abandons one’s homeland, but always takes it with him.

  • Always somebody select in secret who is who travelling to a emigration meeting in Havana and each time looks like is the same people, ?where we go by this way, what we can get, vacation in Havana hotels? I knew about the meeting only by the news in “JR” website, any cuban in Florida, Georgia, New York , Madrid or Germany, and any media took about that outside Cuba,, they never have an idea about that meeting before in Havana with the “emigration” (The same 450 people who travel to Havana like a elite that nobody knows inside the emigration neither in United States or Europe, a little elite that is not representative of the emigration, without any political impact inside cuban community in the country where they live.) I think we are wasting time and money by this way giving vacation free in Havana at the level of VP to people not really useful to the foreign office in the task to care about the Nation.

Comments are closed.