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

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • He is the same threat as Garcia Marquez was.

  • So you are saying that Mesa Lago is seen as a threat by the Castro government? Why?

  • That’s odd, why did you bring up the USA? That country is not mentioned anywhere in the above essay. Are you under some sort of internal Platt Amendment in which the US automatically intervenes in your brain?

    By the way, none of the people on that list were US citizens and therefore have no right to enter the US. Like all foreign visitors they do so as a privilege. Mesa Lago is a Cuban citizen and therefore under the Cuban constitution has a right to enter Cuba. The Castro regime abuses their monopoly on political power to deny him his rights. As they do all Cuban citizens, by the way.

  • No, we are talking about governments keeping people out whom they feel are political threats or inconvenient to their regimes, whatever political stripe they may be.

  • I didn’t know that Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a US citizen? Since when? Remember in this issue we are talking about a Cuban trying to visit Cuba.

  • Regardless you cannnot stop us Our story is inbedded in each area of Cuba and the world from Guantanamo to Habana to la islas from Congo to Angola (my birthplace) We built the world and Cuba with our blood sweat and tears No culture has done more anywhere in the diaspora

  • Why is the wall in Ceuta & Melilla deemed “hateful”? Is Spain, as a sovereign nation, have the right to control it’s own borders and the process of immigration?

    For the record,

    “….as of 2010, there were over 6 million foreign-born residents in Spain, corresponding to 14% of the total population. Of these, 4.1 million (8.9% of the total population) were born outside the European Union and 2.3 million (5.1%) were born in another EU Member State.

    As of 2005 Spain had the second highest immigration rates within the EU, just after Cyprus, and the second highest absolute net migration in the World (after the USA).[7] This can be explained by a number of reasons including its geographical position, the porosity of its borders, the large size of its underground economy and the strength of the agricultural and construction sectors which demand more low cost labour than can be offered by the national workforce. In fact, booming Spain was Europe’s largest absorber of migrants from 2002 to 2007, with its immigrant population more than doubling as 2.5 million people arrived

    Over 920,000 immigrants arrived in Spain during 2007, on top of the 802,971 new arrivals in 2006, 682,711 new arrivals in 2005, and 645,844 new arrivals in 2004.

    Contrary to Granma’s report, Europe is not at all “exclusionary” toward immigrants. Millions of immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe & Asia continue to move to Europe. Granma would do better to examine the exclusionary policies of the Cuban government which exclude the possibility of emigration for most Cubans and the fact that a nation which used to receive tens of thousands of immigrants before the Revolution is now shunned by all but a few fugitives as a place to migrate to.

  • The regime may want the gusanos to invest their money in Cuba, but they certainly don’t want their dangerous ideas.

Comments are closed.