Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban political class has always taken emigration seriously, just as it has lent itself to as many uses as have suited them.
In some cases it has been used to frighten the public with the “Plattist” bogyman and exacerbate nationalist tensions, always receiving the support of a minority of extremist emigrants.
In other cases it has been used to pay back bills, through asking for remittances and demanding astronomical consular fees. It has even been used by a segment of partisans — as extreme as the first — those who are called “patriots,” to clean their image before the world and hide their ever critical and hostile positions against Cuban immigrants.
I don’t think that the general/president or his staff has understood one basic sociological fact: Cuba is a transnational society, since 15-20 percent of its population — the most dynamic part — lives abroad. Therefore, it’s not possible to govern the island without considering the rights of its emigrants.
Currently, as part of his “updating,” Raul Castro has declared — and his cronies have repeated this to the point of contracting laryngitis — that they aim is to reform the immigration system. But as is usual for an authoritarian system, no one knows in what direction they are going to do this, and there have been no public consultations.
It’s not a matter of sensitivity towards compatriots
So, we’re all at the mercy of meager goodwill of the Cuban political elite.
Obviously the announced immigration reform isn’t an issue that sails on the political vacuum, nor does it rest on altruistic considerations. Actually, the interest in emigration on the part of Cuba’s authorities is not based on any special sensitivity to the fate of their compatriots.
They continue to care little about the suffering of a family that is divided or how doubly tragic it is in the case of the death of a distant mother who one cannot visit; whenever this intensified pain always serves to shore up governance.
Although a facelift is always convenient, I don’t think the main purpose of this move is an improved public image.
The challenge now is to move the chips around to increase the use of money from the emigrants for an economic take-off and to lubricate the bourgeois conversion of the elite themselves and their heirs.
However there’s no consensus among the elite about how many chips you have to move to make sure of emigrants contribution to the island’s economic recovery.
Such a contribution would be very helpful in any circumstance — as it has been worldwide in other cultures — but particularly in an economy in chronic crisis, made more pressing by the drying up of Venezuelan subsidies and oil that isn’t appearing.
For Cubans living on the island the scenario seems clearer, since the repressive web is so tangled that it’s possible to make numerous partial concessions without advancing, fundamentally, in achieving citizens’ rights to free travel.
Let’s say that they can lower fees, eliminate some of the cumbersome steps and remove prohibitions — all of which are positive — without Cubans on the island truly achieving the possession of their rights.
What the government is going to win with that measure is some inflamed applause from the cacophonous minstrels of “orderly transition.”
Virtually stateless people
But everything seems to be more confusing for the emigrants. Here they too can take partial steps — always positive, but insufficient — such as lifting bans, lowering fees and lengthening the duration of stays of visiting emigrants.
But in the end there will still remain, and be very visible, the crucial issue of emigrants: their virtual conversion into a stateless people stemming from the expropriation of their rights as citizens, including their right to reside in the place where they were born.
An example of how confusing the scenario is and how serious its results could be is the issue of dual nationality/citizenship. Recognition or at least tolerance of multi-nationality is the sign of the times worldwide. In fact, a high percentage of Cuban emigrants have another nationality in addition to their Cuban one.
The current constitution of Cuba does not recognize dual nationality, but the government has never endeavored to operate in that direction, either because it’s something difficult to do or because it’s cost effective to have hundreds of thousands of Cubans paying high consular fees every two years.
On the contrary, the government requires immigrants to carry a Cuban passport even if they have another nationality and they don’t wish to retain their Cuban one.
Without a doubt it should be a right of Cubans who want to give up their nationality to be able to do so and enter the country with the passports of their new nation.
But those who don’t want to give up their nationality should also have the right to maintain it and enjoy rights as overseas citizens. With regard to them, if the government were to maintain its reluctance to recognizing dual citizenship, and if it were to decide to effectively operate against this situation in which hundreds of thousands of emigrants find themselves, we would be in the presence of a ruthless expropriation of national rights.
Although the Cuban government has us accustomed to almost everything concerning matters of inconsideration and expropriations, I think such a phenomenon would be very costly not only for emigrants, but for the entire nation.
In the end, as I said earlier, we are a transnational society consisting of islanders and immigrants – despite our insularity.
(*) Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com