Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
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.