HAVANA TIMES — Arlety is a friend of our family who we haven’t seen in a long time. She was an athlete who remained in Europe when she went there on tour with the Cuban team.
Like all professional-level athletes and doctors on internationalist missions who decided not to return, she was considered a traitor and would never be allowed to set foot on the land of her birth.
To see her family again, she had no choice but to arrange their flights to the country where she was living, which wasn’t easy. Her father was only able to visit her three years ago, but her mother wasn’t permitted to leave.
Thanks to the new immigration reforms, Arlety is now anxiously awaiting the end of 2013 for her to complete the eight years required for her to return to the island. She isn’t alone. Hundreds of Cubans hope to visit the land they’ve always loved and will never forget, no matter where they are.
Cubans have suffered the consequences of their separation from family members and friends for too long. In 1959, wealthy families began leaving the country with the hope of returning one day to the Cuba of Batista, and they’re still waiting.
Later, other rich families also emigrated. These were people who had thought the revolution of the bearded guerillas would last for only a few months…or a year, at most. They finally got tired and left as well.
Years passed and the Cuban people as a whole became enamored with the revolutionary process. The clear and positive changes that came with socialism were well received by the poorer classes, who were the overwhelming majority. These were the years of total support for the revolution and Fidel.
Of course there were always those who were opposed to the system, especially those who saw their personal wealth affected. These people believed the revolution was placing too many restrictions and following too many doctrines, and a small group was encouraged from Miami since the first days of the revolution.
The Cuban people suffered “Operation Peter Pan,” in which thousands of children were torn from the arms of their parents, the majority of whom never reunited with their families here in Cuba.
We lived through the Mariel exodus in which whole families suffered the humiliation of being called traitors, “worms” and were even pelted with eggs.
The socialist camp collapsed and with it the dependent Cuban economy. The Special Period crisis brought a sea of ??misery and despair, which only increased the number of emigrants.
After the 1990’s those who had left earlier were received with open arms by the same people who had previously seen them as domestic enemies.
Others seeking to leave the island came up with all kinds of ingenious schemes – from car inner-tube rafts to stolen boats or ones built by themselves, to swimming to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay or hopping safer speed boats paid for by their relatives in the United States.
No one knows the exact number of people who died in the Straits of Florida or in the vicinity of Guantanamo Bay.
The unavoidable arrival of tourism and joint ventures improved the economy for some Cubans, accentuating class differences and other social phenomena such as racism.
Many people took advantage of reforms of that time to emigrate through convenience marriages or through help from foreign employers or friends.
The recent emigration reforms implemented this year offer new possibilities to those who want to live abroad permanently, work abroad temporarily or merely spend some time with their families.
Although many people don’t believe these new reforms will really solve the current situation of Cubans — since almost all countries require visas, which will now be much more difficult to get — the truth is that with the new immigration regulations, the diaspora should cease being a topic associated with tears and suffering.
Although the past will never be forgotten, I hope these new measures will help to achieve a better relationship between those of us here and those there, for the simple and sole reason: we’re all Cubans.