Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES, April 20 — For critical left intellectuals and activists who live in Cuba, the issue of the Cuban emigration (20 percent of the nation’s population and crucial in terms of its economic importance) is a vague issue.
Usually it is a matter that goes unmentioned. But when it is raised, it’s more like going to the wake of a dead buddy: people sympathize with the orphaned offspring but they don’t commit to helping keep them “alive” – it costs a lot. There’s also a cost in mentioning the issue in Cuba, where the matter of emigration is always a political mine field.
The only left organization that has adopted a fundamental position vis-à-vis the émigré community has been (not coincidentally) the only group that is considered illegal and therefore subject to state repression: Arco Progresista. Simply stated, this organization demanded in its “Carta de Nuevo Pais” (Letter for a New Country) the right of the migrants “to participate in the formation of the political will of the state.”
This is a forward step that must be appreciated and understood as inevitable for those who effectively believe in a socially just and politically democratic future republic, where the left (socialist or not) has the full right to present its proposals for superseding capitalism and establishing (as Gramsci suggested) an ethical/political leadership. One cannot speak of Cuban society without also speaking of its diaspora; and if it is a question of speaking, it’s necessary to do this with all the depth that this deserves.
Recognition that a solution is needed
When reviewing the interviews of the four intellectuals published by Espacio Laical, which I discussed in a previous article (Does a Revolutionary Social Pact Exist in Cuba?), I got the impression of a positive advance in relation to that matter since all four of them mentioned the issue and argued for solutions that involved more openness.
But I’m afraid that in no case has there been a true evaluation of the complexity of the issue, at least not one presented succinctly. Because of this, all of those distinguished analysts remained very far, deplorably far, from suggesting an integral solution. It’s to the point that I believe we émigrés don’t fit in that republic “by all and for the wellbeing of all” that was called for by Lenier Gonzalez.
Unquestionably, the author who has addressed the issue most is Carlos Alzugaray, possibly because his professional training is more closely related to the topic. In summary, this analyst suggests two points: The first is to allow “the free movement of Cuban citizens in one or another direction,” and the second is to solve the issue of the legal recognition of dual citizenship.
As can be surmised, we haven’t gone very far along this road. Even when we interpret the analyst’s rhetorical ambiguities in a more progressive sense (for example, believing that when he wants to speak honestly about legislation regarding the dual citizenship, he argues for its acceptance) he does not mention the key questions: the right of emigrants to return and live in Cuba and the restoration of their social, political and civil rights, even when they continue living outside the country.
A redesigned policy based on control and survival
Alzugaray says something that is at least partially true: since the end of the 1970s there has been a redesign of immigration policy by the Cuban government. The only problem is that this redesign has nothing to do with an inclusive, fair and respectful approach to the rights of emigrants. What the Cuban government redrafted since the end of the ‘70s involves the multiple use of those emigrants in accordance with its politics of political/ideological control and its economic survival.
If those who emigrated before the 1970s were characterized as “historical surplus scum,” since that decade there began to take shape a more sophisticated ideological and a growing economic use of them. For this, the Cuban leaders did what they’ve always done to be able to govern: they fragmented the opposition. In this case they fragmented the emigrant community into three groups for specific uses.
The first one is the acquiescent segment composed of functionaries working for joint-venture companies, people with special permits who are interested in preserving them and others whose political preferences bring them near the Cuban government. They constitute, from the vantage point of official ideology, the “patriotic” sector of emigration. They are the genuine heirs of the early tobacco workers in Cayo Hueso (Florida).
These are the people who are invited to the “Nacion con la Emigracion” (Nation with Emigrants) dialogues – which are in truth pro-government conferences lacking participation from either emigrants or the nation. Instead, involvement is only from part of the former group and a government whose legitimacy has never been confirmed in any democratic, competitive or pluralistic elections. Consequently, it can be said that this fragment represents the nation only in formal legal terms, nothing more.
As noted, the principal function of this segment is symbolic. It offers the world and the manacled Cuban public opinion the false image that emigrants (or a substantial part of them) support the government and its politics. These “factions” can possibly be used as violent battering rams against other migrants, as frequently occurs in European cities. This would be a sort of overseas Rapid Response Brigade.
Miami hosts the flip side
The counterpart of this segment is composed of those people who maintain hardline positions in opposition to the Cuban government, either because they demand its violent overthrow or because they oppose all types of contact or negotiations with it, or because they support US punitive actions (such as the blockade/embargo).
Their demonstrations in the streets of Miami — particularly if these are violent — are presented as typical political demonstrations of émigré opponents. Their leaders and spokespersons are the bêtes noires that the Cuban government selects to exhibit to the island’s population, which is the type of future it would expect if the current political class were deposed and its fate were placed at the mercy of the exiles.
However, the great majority of those who have emigrated are outside of these two fringes. They are people who are silent, those who cannot demonstrate politically out of fear of losing entry or exit permits for relatives, individuals who send their remittances to Cuba and pay their consular fees on time. They are displayed as and explained to be people “respectful” of the Cuban system.
Their peculiar condition as exiles — like all of us Cubans who emigrate — is deceivingly dissolved in the consideration that they are economic migrants; that they emigrated because on this planet almost everybody emigrates to live better. Consequently, they also serve to teach the common Cuban that to behave well is a condition of being able to travel, to return a few days every year, and to possibly “pluck” ones family from the island.
But above all, this majority faction has an economic use that the Cuban government cannot relinquish: they are an essential pivot of popular consumption and a basic supplier of hard currency, with this latter feature accentuated due to the expropriating vocation that the Cuban government has in connection with emigrated nationals.
Despite its repugnant style, the design that was previously explained has certainly implied more freedom for the common Cuban. Formerly they couldn’t travel anywhere but now they can do so under certain conditions. However it is a freedom that is partial and conditional, one that is delegated and therefore revocable.
No part of this explicitly recognizes the right of citizens to leave and return to the island to live in the place where they were born, and because of that it is more like a type of permission than it is a freedom. Moreover, it’s always quite expensive for the pockets of those who finance the trips, often working long hours in several jobs simultaneously.
But it’s also very costly for the prestige of the parasitic Cuban political class, which at least previously could argue about the security of the redeeming revolution as the reason for restricting the right to travel and return, but who now simply sell that right.
The republic of the future, the one that should be “with all and for the wellbeing of all” according to Lenier Gonzalez, cannot be built without a clear and precise criticism of this system that is frankly dishonorable in its manipulation of public opinion, of exacting punishment against its political critics and opponents, and of expropriating migrants and their families.
There can only be one agenda: the elimination of all legal and administrative restrictions that today prevent Cuban citizens from freely traveling abroad, just as those that impede emigrants from returning to their country of origin, residing there and fully enjoying their civic rights.
There is no possibility of aspiring for a better Cuba without the inclusion of its emigrant community. Either there are freedom and rights for everyone or there will be none for anybody.
Demonstrated graphically, until Yoani Sanchez can travel to wherever she pleases, and the four brilliant interviewees of Espacio Laical will have to continue speaking cryptically in order to always be able to argue they weren’t understood – and essentially so they won’t be understood.