Citizenship and Residency Are Not Exclusive
By Raudiel F. Pena Barrios (Progreso Semanal)
HAVANA TIMES — At the beginning of this year, the world, and especially Cuba and Cubans who live in the United States, shook with the news that the so-called “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy had finally come to an end.
In the midst of this announcement and as part of the joint declaration that was made public on January 12th, the two governments established new rules with regard to immigration.
We need to understand that this decision forms part of the slow, long and complex process of normalizing relations between our country and the United States.
Even though many, myself included, took this change of position as a surprise, it was expected to happen given the new era of bilateral relations.
On the other hand, the subject of immigrant preferences that our fellow Cubans received caused outcries from several Latin American governments, especially in Central America, given the fact that Cuban emigres are illegally entering and moving around their national territories.
Plus, it had never been taken off of the negotiations table and the Cuban government continued to see the application of the aforementioned policy as a pressure mechanism against them. We can agree with this statement if we take into account how this subject has been dealt with by successive US governments, having been a source of political friction for more than fifty years.
Nevertheless, rather than discussing the potential landscape which will arise from this presidential decision, it’s essential to analyze an idea which Josefina Vidal mentioned in a press conference given on January 12th.
This government official and key figure in every round of talks with the US, said that Cuba would continue to perfect its migration policy, and that new measures would be introduced. She also confirmed the country’s commitment to creating a steady, orderly and safe immigration flow of Cubans to the United States.
The last time our migration policy was updated was in 2012, when the need to get authorization to leave the country to travel was removed, among other barriers, as well as introducing the need to renew your passport every two years.
However, according to recent statements, it seems that other reforms are being analyzed in this regard.
One of them could be the extension of the expiration date on passports to 10 years, with the corresponding extension of time that a Cuban citizen can remain outside of the country without losing residency. This would mean a step in taking on international practices; even though when a person leaves their country and settles somewhere else they don’t usually need to renew their passport or lose their rights.
Nevertheless, in order to achieve the latter, we may have to wait a little longer, because if the logic behind how this works is quid pro quo (something like giving and giving), the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act by US Congress could be of the last conditions for this to happen.
There are a series of steps that could be taken here in Cuba so as to adjust our practices to international standards. The first thing we have to do is to standardize a citizenship law. Not all of our problems will be fixed by this, but it would be a good starting point and we would also comply with the Constitution that establishes this in passing.
After the 1992 reforms to the Constitution, 25 years ago now, article 32 invoked a regulation law for the procedure that needs to be followed in formalizing the loss of citizenship and the authorities who have the power to decide this. Then, it talks about this regulatory provision to establish the way and the cases that it can be recovered. Like with other issues, there’s just one question: What law?
The answer to this question is not only negative, but it reveals the existence of an unclear legal framework regarding Cuban citizenship. This system has practices which belong to the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and are not public for the most part. It could be said that the regulation of this subject is a matter of national security, which isn’t completely illogical given the external pressure the country has faced with relation to this.
However, the current political landscape forces us to reconsider this issue and the need for a law that will take force. We need to understand that citizenship in Cuba isn’t a political right, like it is in the majority of Latin American countries, but needs to be understood as the political-legal tie between an individual and the State. For us, this concept is different to nationality, which is more related to idiosyncracies and the Cuban people’s own traditions.
A position on citizenship like this implies that it is a basic condition to have rights, which the legal system recognizes for nationals. Without the status of “Cuban citizen”, nationals don’t have access to their rights to healthcare, education, work, among others.
The biggest problem here is that once you leave the country, you have a legal period of two years before losing residency. Once this happens, you also lose the ability to enjoy all your rights as a Cuban citizen. Being able to exercise these rights doesn’t depend on citizenship, but on your residency within national territory. Therefore, you need to enter Cuba within 24 months in order to avoid being restricted in this sense.
Among other factors, this situation has laid the grounds for the current and erroneously called “repatriation procedures”, which many people carry out in order to recover their rights, especially their social rights, which are well-known in the country. I would like to clarify that this kind of process legally means resettling, as those who migrated didn’t lose their rights but are limited in making the most of them.
The day will have to come when this matter at hand is handled in a different way, due to the fact that international practices don’t correspond with this reality. However, it’s still true that whoever migrates generally has better financial means than those of us who live in Cuba, and therefore, can pay to receive services which are currently free. However, the way they can contribute to keeping these services up and running isn’t paying for what corresponds to them given their “citizen” status. There are other ways to do this, such as facilitating the investment process for those who can invest in the public and private sectors of the national economy; something which has been happening in the latter without any kind of control and in an underhanded fashion.
It must be clear that because we are Cuban citizens we can always enjoy the rights we have and will have in the future, no matter what the situation. Cubans shouldn’t lose their citizenship just because they have definitively left, unless they decide to renounce this citizenship and everything that this implies.
If we want to have full-fledged relationships with our emigres, we need to reconsider this subject and establishing a suitable legal framework is the key. The guarantees that a much-needed citizenship law can offer, both to those of us who stay as well as those who leave, is a crucial path in strengthening Cuba’s commitment to its institutions and, in passing, to this sought-after steady, orderly and safe migration.