Immigration Reform and Ricardo Alarcon’s Good Heart

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Ricardo Alarcon said that “radical and profound immigration reform” is on the horizon for Cuba. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES, April 17 — Every time I hear Ricardo Alarcon (president of the Cuban legislature) talking about the changes in Cuba, I remember a poem by Nicolas Guillen that I used to read to my daughter. It was in a beautifully illustrated book by Rapi Diego. Having read it so often, I remember complete verses from it.

It dealt with the adventures of two brothers — Toad and Toady — who were, according to Guillen, “two youngsters with good hearts.” They remind me of Alarcon, who in his own way is also a good-hearted guy.

His political life must have been hard, sharing the table with so many generals and bureaucrats who didn’t have the slightest idea who was Hans Kelsen – his intellectual hero, who he stubbornly quotes, regardless of whether the case fits or not. Alarcon learned of him because he didn’t have to go to the Nico Lopez ideological training school for a certificate.

Perhaps that’s why, being too intellectual, he could never rise beyond the figurative plane. This to may explain why when he tried to pose as a modern politician in his debate with opposition figure Jorge Mas Canosa, not only was he devastated, but he was also punished when he got home. He was given the thankless task of giving two lectures a day on the US Helms-Burton Act – saying the same thing to audiences that invariably couldn’t have cared less.

Finally he found his spot and remained in the colorless National Assembly, where he can convene their brief sessions that meet twice a year and look longingly at the Foreign Ministry post that escaped him.

Now this good-hearted guy appears to be talking about “radical and profound immigration reform.” What he’s saying isn’t anything new, Cuban emigration has been used as a weapon to destabilize the Cuban government, but that the emigrants have changed; they have now taken on an economic character and aspire toward “peaceful” relationships with the country.

Later he said there will be changes but not ones that would not endanger human capital [brain drain], which “is very expensive to the Cuban state.” He made additional statements that only added more distortion to a very complex issue whose positive approach should begin with a less biased analysis than that made by Ricardo Alarcon.

This is the same thing that was done by General/President Raul Castro, and this is exactly what’s repeated by intellectual spokesmen of the government when they shower themselves in the liberalism of universities in the United States and Europe.

I’m not going to stop right now to analyze the components of this discourse based on false assumptions. I only want to make a bet. I maintain that there will be no radical changes involving a return of rights of Cubans to freely travel or their being allowed to freely decide where they’re going to live and when to return. Anything less than this doesn’t constitute a radical change.

I don’t think the Cuban government will act in this direction — I repeat, the only one acceptable — because all the Cuban government is looking for is a better international image, a more sustained relationship with the economic aspect of its emigrants and a new source of support from them.

The Cuban government doesn’t see its emigrants as citizens but as the payers of remittances and consular services. At the very most it sees them as deep-pocketed investors (perfect partners for their own bourgeois conversion) and eventually as a means to encourage an anti-embargo lobby in Miami itself.

But they are not seeking to create a situation of rights and freedoms that allow all Cubans to freely decide their lives.

What they are looking for can be obtained by making small changes in the unfair, discriminatory and anti-national immigration system. They can, for example, lower the prices of services, extend the time one can spent outside of the country, eliminate some of the requirements (such as letters of invitation), among other actions that would be positive – but still not sufficient.

This is because the only thing sufficient, the only thing we can accept with pleasure is the full restoration of the rights of Cubans to enter and leave the country.

Here are five essential points:

1. They must remove all restrictions on the free movement of Cuban residents, thus repealing Decree Law 217, and eliminate the vast off-bounds areas of the country that hinder citizen access.

2. They must recognize and guarantee the right of Cubans living on the island to travel abroad without having to make payments to the Cuban government other than for the extending of their passport.

3. They must set clear and consistent standards on the number of years of service that a college graduate must offer society before being able to settle abroad or the amount of money they must pay back to society for expenses incurred in their education. In all cases, this limitation does not base itself on a foreign travel ban — which would be illegal — but on compliance with the issuance of a degree.

4. They must return to all Cuban immigrants their full rights of citizens, especially those involving the right to visit their country of birth, to reside and work there, to participate in public activities and consume goods and services under the existing laws. This would imply no objection to another adopted citizenship, which, however, would have no validity within the country.

5. They must recognize the right of people born in Cuba to renounce their Cuban citizenship, and therefore those people born in Cuba who do not wish to bear that citizenship could use another one to enter the country.

Of course I hope that I’m wrong, but I feel sure that the Cuban government cannot respond to an agenda of this dimension. This is simply because the current immigration system is a key piece of repressive control over society.

Under the current system, all Cubans, inside and outside, are compelled to conduct themselves “properly” if they want to leave and enter. In other words, one cannot question the oppressive political system if they want to again see their parents or children, or leave for a few months to make some money to survive, or simply enjoy a different world.

The government can even do away with the high revenues obtained from exceedingly expensive immigration consular services, but it cannot surrender the politically disciplining of the population.

In the event of a partial reform, which would be less unbearable but essentially the same, what would remain would be a system of delegated authority (and therefore revocable), controlled by an authoritarian elite and the continued obstruction of a real system of inalienable rights.

This is a good theme song for supporters of that ordered change, which emphasizes order so much you can’t see the change. This might be acceptable for the intellectual spokespeople and well-versed liberal friends, but not for Cuban democrats – regardless of their political persuasion right now.

But of course, I repeat, I hope I’m making a mistake. I hope to find myself writing an article a few months telling you, dear readers, that I was malicious and suspicious, as I apologize for not recognized this guy’s good heart, something which in the end we all have, hidden in some unpredictable space of our existence.
(*) Publicado originalmente en

2 thoughts on “Immigration Reform and Ricardo Alarcon’s Good Heart

  • I do hope you’re mistaken, Haroldo. You’re just being a bit too cynical, so much that any step in the right direction happening in Cuba will always be seen as “not good enough”.

  • Some excellent suggestions. I would advise to take the positive mental approach and cease the negativity.
    This will happen because it’s not only time, those Cuban’s living in Florida know full well the opportunities
    and, most of all, returning to paradise. Give it time but most of all, make it happen!

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