Updating Cuba’s Immigration Policy

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso 

Fortress. Photo: Sarah Waisvisz

HAVANA TIMES, August 22 — Every time the general/president talks about updating something, I really don’t understand what he means.  It’s probable that he’s doing this for that very reason, so that no one will understand him.  In this way he can buy some more time so that he and his companions can finally figure out what they’re going to do.

It now turns out that Raul Castro has announced an “updating” of Cuban immigration policy – undoubtedly a derivative of the right to touristic travel that they promised in the “Guidelines” document.

What’s more, he did it in passing, without giving details; it was like routine information passed out to the deputies and the public, without debate or consultation.  This was one more example of the slight transparency that characterizes him and that animates the Cuban political system.

Positive steps

Even with this being the case, I find this a positive step for several reasons.

Due to the existence of an arbitrary and repressive immigration policy directed against the Cuban population — one that is well below the minimum standards recognized in this area by the broad international community — Cuban society has suffered greatly over the last several years.

Emigrants are exiles, forced to pay amazingly large amounts of money to a parasitic government only so that it allows them the right to travel.  In this process they find themselves victims of expropriation, humiliated in their own land, separated from their families and from their homes, and frequently prevented from returning.  In other times they were described as social scum and criminals, while they and their relatives were physically attacked by hostile crowds of political lynch mobs.

Right now it doesn’t matter as much that the United States tried to use the immigration issue against the Cuban government, particularly during those years when the island’s government represented a revolution (though that has ceased to exist for some time now).  What now matters is that the Cuban government has been guilty of conspiring against its own society through immigration regulations that are frankly obscene.

Umbrella. Photo: Sarah Waisvisz

If General Raul Castro tries to modify this situation to the benefit of both the island and the émigré communities, if somewhere on the planet there’s an émigré who will be able to travel to the deathbed of a dying relative without having to request permission, any step towards such a situation deserves recognition.  I therefore personally salute the general.

But it should be very clear, especially for those who like to waste their energy on applauses, such success will not come through minor modifications like the normalization of relations between those who emigrated and island society, all of whom constitute a part of the nation.

No solution is possible if there is not full and total recognition of the right of Cubans to travel abroad and return to their homeland at will.  There is no possible solution if this right is not recognized for all Cubans who emigrated and if the government does not restore all civic rights that it expropriated when those individuals left for other countries.

Differing objectives

However I don’t believe that the expectations of the general/president are heading along these roads of redemption.  The diagnosis of RC is always the same tune with a few slight variations in the composition: Migration is a weapon of Yankee imperialism, the US Cuba Adjustment Act is an obstacle; and there exist good migrants who contribute remittances, dance salsa, miss the flag and aren’t interested in politics.  Nothing indicates a critical review of the policy that has been used against the population to control it and has racked up a tragic balance of human rights violations.

What the Cuban government is seeking is a better use of the economic potential of emigrants.  With absolute sincerity, RC has declared that the priority at the moment is “to restore the international credibility of the Cuban economy gradually.”  That’s why when there are citizens living abroad, the government perceives them only as sources of remittances, tourists and possibly investors.

Cuban street. Photo: Sarah Waisvisz

Where there is a national diaspora, the Cuban government only perceives the existence of an economically flourishing community that possesses close to 150,000 businesses concentrated mainly around Florida (The annual sales levels of these is ten times more than entire Cuban export of goods, and they produce just under half of the island’s total GDP as stated by the government).

That’s why I don’t expect changes sufficient to achieve the normalization of relations between the two communities.  I do expect a reduction or elimination of the excessive payments that the Cuban government is currently required to make, a simplification of the immigration process, the lifting of prohibitions against specific types of migrants (for example the balseros of 1994), and a few other measures that will make exchanges more fluid.

These are small changes, but healthy changes.  They will relax the ominous political controls on island society and inevitably move the field of politics toward an area of greater freedom – to the detriment of the authoritarianism of the Cuban political system.

But this will also demand of the exile community a mature and constructive attitude, one superior to the acquiescent emotions that overflow from our Raulist-Lite (displaying the clamorous intransigencies of rigidity in extinction).  We will need to see ourselves as a modest part of a complex process in which we were never scum and will never be saviors.  We need only recall an article published in Pinar del Rio: “Todos somos Cuba” (All of Us Are Cuba).

That’s already a lot, don’t you think?


A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.