Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — If I were to say the most dynamic part of Cuban society lives, not on the island, but across the world (particularly South Florida), I wouldn’t be saying anything new. This is true economically and demographically – much of the population in Cuba relies on remittances and, in the midst of generalized poverty, refuses to have children – but it is also true culturally and intellectually.
Though a significant number of the island’s intellectuals look down on Cuban cultural production abroad, we should acknowledge that the diaspora has had a highly valuable intellectual production, be it because a generation of émigrés with their own conceptions has emerged or because it has harbored émigrés (the banished, exiled and deported) who took with them the best of Cuba’s (trans) national thought. Because of this, I am always put off by that frankly resentful debate about where the cradle and child of Cuban culture are to be located – a rather archaic discussion for a society that is eminently transnational.
It is regrettable that none of the political sectors that co-exist in Cuba have a clear body of ideas about the transnational condition of Cuban society, let alone proposals for policies aimed at overcoming the rift created decades ago by circumstance and maintained for half a century by yet another mechanism for the domination and castration of Cuban society.
We can of course expect nothing of the sort from the Castro elite and the pro-government political field it rules over. For this elite, émigrés continue to represent a source of revenue and, at the same time, an ideological scarecrow. Unable to continue to represent this community as wholly unpatriotic, it has sought rather to split it up, selling the image of good émigrés – the true representatives of Cubanness – and bad ones, where the foul beasts of the pro-embargo Right are gathered. This is the reason it was particularly careful to change next to nothing having to do with émigrés in its recent migratory law reform, allowing these to visit the country of their births for a mere few extra days, extending the time they can legally remain abroad and affording them the sad privilege of being able to ask the government for mercy in order to return to the island definitively. To accept that émigrés are citizens with rights would prove fatal to the concept that regards citizenship as a measure of one’s political loyalty to the system. Consequently, it would be inadmissible for the authoritarian model that continues to prevail in the country.
What’s surprising is that no substantial political conception of this exists in the other two political fields.
The opposition, for instance, barely touches the issue and, when it does, it does not manage to offer anything coherent. During a meeting in Mexico sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation – were the main leaders of existing opposition groups gathered – they made a point of specifying that “(…) it is up to Cubans to undertake the actions that will lead us to overcome Cuba’s problems, those who live on the island in particular (…)” and of assigning the diaspora a secondary role. In this, they certainly appeared to share the ideas (probably not intentionally) of the speech delivered by the sacked Cuban Foreign Minister Perez Roque, who, in 2003, stated that the country’s problems, “by nature, are the sole concern of those who live, work and struggle in the homeland.”
The tolerated critics of the system (in the journals Temas and Cuba Posible, formerly Espacio Laical), whose sociological makeup is dominated by progressive and left-wing intellectuals who are always willing to offer their opinions and write articles – have remained deathly quiet on the matter, to the point that, now fully immersed in the debate surrounding Cuba’s constitutional reform, they barely address the fact that a million and a half Cubans currently live in a kind of legal limbo where the island is concerned and are denied any rights on it, even the right that visitors from around the world have to purchase a tourist visa for a handful of dollars.
To sum up, we émigrés constitute a rather inconvenient topic for the whole of Cuba’s political spectrum, where silence and invisibility proves more profitable than critical analysis, despite the fact that all of these political sectors – government, tolerated critics and full-fledged opponents – have interlocutors and allies beyond the sea (from La tarde se mueve to the Cuban American National Foundation, to OnCuba), as they are ultimately also part of our transnational society.
To address the issue of Cuba’s transnationality and the rights of émigrés is not to flirt with like-minded émigrés or to publish articles portraying them as altruistic Cubans. It is a question of directly and frankly tackling the issue of the rights of the hundreds of thousands of Cuban citizens that are scattered around the world, and calling for a political definition of our society that acknowledges its transnational nature and eliminates, once and for all, the perverse equivalence between citizenship and political loyalty maintained by the Cuban government.
This is a complex matter that will require a series of steps:
- The creation of an atmosphere of trust through specific actions, such as broadening the calls for participation at national conferences, both in terms of the kinds of participants and the agenda to be discussed, the promotion of cultural and social exchange and the rectification of the discourse related to migrants.
- Adjusting the price of consular and migratory services to average international standards.
- Recognizing freedom of movement as a non-negotiable civil right.
- The constitutional enshrinement of double-citizenship.
- The gradual restoration of the civil and political rights of émigrés who decide to retain their Cuban citizenship and, initially, the right to return to, live in and retain properties in Cuba.
Is it convenient, acceptable and ethically permissible to continue to remain silent on this issue?