The Banishment of Cuban Scholar Mesa Lago

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Carmelo Mesa Lago. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, Cuba’s major official newspaper Granma  – now supposedly adapting its tenets to the modern world – published a heartfelt article by Linet Perera which condemned the building a wall on the outskirts of Ceuta and Melilla meant to prevent the entry of African immigrants into Europe. Titled Kilometros de vallas para cuidar el sueño europeo (“Kilometers of Wall Used to Safeguard the European Dream”), the article was essentially a critique of Europe’s exclusionist policies vis-à-vis African immigrants.

Though I believe the issue is far more complex than Granma would have us believe – immigration is a complex phenomenon anywhere in the world – I basically agree with Perera in her principled criticisms, and I would add that European politics evince a fair degree of cynicism when it comes to the issue of immigration.

I doubt, however, that, as far as cynicism goes, Europeans could be said to outdo Granma journalists, who condemn Europe’s disgraceful migratory measures while keeping silent – and ultimately applauding – the immense felonies perpetrated by the Cuban government against immigrants. When I refer to immigrants, I am of course not speaking of foreigners wishing to settle in Cuba (I doubt there are many such candidates), but about Cuba’s own émigrés.

Cuba’s recent migratory reform – elevated by some “patriotic and respectful” émigrés to the status of a national event of epic proportions – not only continues to deny Cubans living on the island the inalienable right to move about and travel, it also leaves the restrictions that weight on Cuban émigrés nearly intact.

Everything seems to indicate that the issue has been definitively left in the hands of those intransigent hard-liners who are always intent of building walls, and higher than those at Ceuta, Melilla and San Diego.

At the beginning of March, the renowned Cuban scholar Carmelo Mesa Lago was invited to attend an interesting intellectual gathering in Cuba. The organizers – particularly Cuba’s Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”) journal – had planned to pay tribute to Mesa Lago, now 80, and to launch his latest book about the Cuban economy in the era of Raul Castro.

It was an excellent initiative. Mesa Lago is the most important Cuban social scientist of our time. He has an enviable academic career behind him, has published many important books and can boast of an expertise that makes him a world authority on more than one issue. He is the kind of person that graces an academic event with his presence, and does so with the kind of modesty and joviality that often characterize greatness.

Mesa Lago is so discrete that only some time later, and through other channels, have we been able to find out that the Cuban government denied him a visa to visit the country of his birth. That is to say, the Cuban government, instead of rejoicing at the prospects of having someone of Mesa Lago’s intellectual and moral stature visit the country, instead of availing itself of his brief sojourn among Cuban scholars, decided to prevent him from attending the event and enjoying the tribute he deserved.

I believe something else was done in lieu of the planned homage, and it is certainly positive this was done. But I also believe the event’s participants chose to grumble instead of explicitly and directly condemning the action, in order to tell the political class and the island’s intellectual community that we are a transnational community and that someone like Mesa Lago has as much a right as any Cuban to visit the country of his birth and express his opinions about it. They lost an opportunity to step forward and have themselves heard.

What this confirmation of Mesa Lago’s banishment reveals is that Cuba’s political elite continues to handle émigrés on the basis of the same old utilitarian criteria, and that it is intent on rifting apart what is ultimately a single society.

On this matter and on all issues related to people’s civil and political rights, Cuban leaders continue to turn their back on time and to place themselves on the dark side of history. They continue to fear different ideas, criticisms and proposals.

They continue to build walls and fences, larger and more hateful than those at Ceuta and Melilla, though curiously invisible to the loquacious journalists of Granma.

11 thoughts on “The Banishment of Cuban Scholar Mesa Lago

  • April 10, 2014 at 7:41 am

    In case anybody would like to read Mesa Lago’s work, here’s a paper he wrote on economic conditions in Cuba:


    His conclusion:

    “…in the past fifty years, Cuba suffered severe economic deterio- ration (particularly domestic, which in turn affected the external sector), accentuated during the Special Pe- riod. With regards to social indicators: based on the figures in Table 3, the great majority of them im- proved, but in 2008, half still had not recovered their 1989 level. Turning to regional rankings (Table 4), with respect to almost half of the indicators, Cuba im- proved its position while it stagnated or worsened with respect to the other half. To improve the dismally poor economic performance of five decades, it is essential to advance in the structural reforms announced by Raúl Castro, recommended by Cuban economists, and cur- rently at a standstill, while the beneficial but costly so- cial services should be made financially sustainable in the long-term.”

  • April 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Garcia Marquez was refused admission to the US because he was closely associated with certain Communists. Being a friend of Fidel’s has brought Gabby many privileges in Cuba, but he paid the price in the US. As it happened, Marquez was refused admission to the US twice, and allowed to enter once. In my opinion, the US should have let him in. It served no purpose to ban him.

    Of course, the main difference is that Marquez is NOT a US citizen and therefore has no absolute right to enter the US. Mesa Lago is a Cuban citizen and therefore he does have a right to enter Cuba, yet still the Cuban government refused him permission.

    It’s interesting to see that you take the position that the Cuban government is correct and within their rights to ban Mesa Lago, and you offer the example of the US banning Marquez to justify Cuba’s decision. It’s certainly ironic to see a Leftist like you pointing to the US as a role model.

  • April 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    He is the same threat as Garcia Marquez was.

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