What Do Cuban Émigrés Get?

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Photo: AIN
Photo: AIN

HAVANA TIMES — The New Herald recently ran an AFP press dispatch that is worth analyzing. It is one of those brief, analytic pieces that address the complicated issue of Cuban emigration.

The article makes special emphasis on the opinions voiced by a renowned Cuban scholar, the director of the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana (CEDEM), Antonio Aja.

I believe that what Aja stated is pretty much what has been said the most on the matter in Cuba to date, at least in the government circles to which Aja belongs in his capacity as director of an institution as strategically important as the CEDEM.

It is comparable, for example, to the speech Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez made before a group of “patriotic and respectful” émigrés, during a gathering in New York held a few years ago, where the official dramatically downplayed the importance of any current economic contribution to the island’s development made by the émigré community, insisting Cuba needed a lot more money than émigrés could contribute.

At the same time, Aja’s statements are a bitter indication of the limits of Cuba’s official discourse – and corresponding practice – surrounding this issue.

According to Aja, Cuba is a migratory country (a concept as close to what Cuba actually is, a transnational society, as we have heard). As such, it must begin to create spaces for practical measures that respond to this reality.

Aja conceives of such measures as different ways of capitalizing on that émigré community, as numerous countries do. This means that “they should spend time in Cuba, work in Cuba, invest in Cuba, that is to say, that the (national) project takes them into consideration. Cuba has to take them into consideration.” That is to say, Cuba must allow “all émigrés who can take part in this project to do so.”

In other words, the director of the CEDEM is inviting those Cuban émigrés “who can”, that is to say, those who have money that can be “capitalized” on, to take part in an allegedly national project that neither the population nor the émigré community – nor many government officials, I am willing to bet –  know anything about. In passing, he adds that all of this represents a step forward made possible by the recent migratory reform.

I agree that the migratory reform is an appropriate step, but I also believe it leaves things as they are – in the sorry place they’re in, that is – in two senses.

In the first place, it does not establish rights; it only extends permits for Cubans residing on the island. Secondly, it does not substantially change the exile status of émigrés, whom it only allows a longer visit, and to return to Cuba definitively if they so request it and their petition is granted.

It is true, as Aja states, that émigrés have become the essential pillars of many national economies. The scholar, however, omits some rather vital details. For instance, he neglects to mention that source countries try to tap as much of the potential of their émigrés as they can (capital for investment, superior technical know-how, social and institutional relations, etc.), and that, to do this, they offer these émigrés numerous incentives, from import tax exemptions to ostentatious welcomes at airports, when these visit the country en masse on festive occasions.

Most importantly, these countries implement measures aimed at integrating émigrés into the country’s affairs, by affording citizens living overseas the same political rights as others: the right to vote and choose their government representatives.

Unfortunately, the Cuban government continues to regard its émigrés as debris that has broken off from the nation’s edifice and seeks to squeeze out as much surplus value from them as it can through remittances and consular services that cost an arm and a leg.

It no longer looks on them as counterrevolutionary ogres, traitors who have jumped off the train of the revolution. Now, it sees in them a kind of gold mine where it can make easy money – Cuban officials have a passion for easy money – and even recognize pockets of “respectful and patriotic” émigrés, inviting these to meetings where, we are told, Cuba enters into talks with its émigrés. In fact, the government is merely having secretive chats with its usual gang of supporters.

As for the rest, the great mass of émigrés who sustain people’s livelihoods with their remittances, it now invites them to make up and be friends – offering so little and asking for so much in return, that one can only conclude Cuban officials are thinking of a very uneven type of friendship. With such “friends”, it is safe to say the émigré community has no need of enemies.
(*) An HT translation of the orginal published in Spanish by Cubanencuentro.com.

30 thoughts on “What Do Cuban Émigrés Get?

  • January 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    I prefer freedom and democracy. You JG are in bed with communist thugs. And as long as communism exists it will be in an existential battle with democracy. But I have much hope. In my lifetime I have seen most communist governments around the globe fail. Cuba’s turn will come soon

  • January 24, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    As has been observed by many a prominent scholar, communism and fascism are two sides of the same coin.

    Cubans have never rejected Capitalism as they have not had. Voice since Castro devolved his first cabinets and certainly since he can to power. Only the Castro whims have held sway over Cuba and it’s people. Cubans have no voice.

    And yes my anarchist friend capitalism, as a natural extension of freedom and democracy, will once again flourish again in Cuba.

  • January 24, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Yes and no John,
    Make no mistake the Cubans (government) have been pointing fingers at the embargo and blaming it for all their woes for 50 years. The fact is Cuba can trade with most other countries in the world. They just don’t have the funds and haven’t a clue as to how business is conducted. My wife (Cuban, Camaguey) is the head of international money in a large bank in the 3rd largest city in Cuba. She has a very limited knowledge of how business is conducted in “real terms.” Not many do because they have no history of it, and she is 50 years old. They did not grow up with it so the end result is a car that is worth $20,000.00 in every other country is sold for $80,000.00 in Cuba.
    By the way she, as a top banker, earns $18.00 a month.
    What Cuba needs is a price freeze and salaries to raise by 10% a year for a while.
    Make no mistakes the Castro’s did a lot of good in their 50+ years of power earlier than most, but a lot of Western countries, mine included have free medical.
    You can have a democratic socialist country and you can keep whoever you don’t want to do business with out of the economy, the problem exists when one group or person thinks that everyone should do what they say.
    As far as American imperialism stand, I think it’s safe to say that those days are coming to a close.
    One system is not better than the other. It’s how that system is implemented and how the population of that system are treated that is the only important thing for life to be liveable.

  • January 24, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Thankfully your view is shared by few. Of all your outlandish claims and No True Scotsman view of communism, the most astounding is your absolute certainty of the future.

  • January 24, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Cuba is neither fascist nor communist.
    Go back to school .
    The Cuban people rejected capitalism and have held out against a forced re-imposition of capitalism by the U.S and people like you who think they know better than the Cuban people what the Cuban people want.
    Back around 2000 Georgie Ann Geyer wrote a book about Fidel in which she said that once he leaves power, Cuba would revert to capitalism .
    That wishful thinking -the same you possess today – has been around for decades and it is no more valid today than it was 14 years ago.
    Fidel retired but his ideas carry on because they are preferable to what went before and to what you wish to force down the throats of a Cuban people still holding out. .

  • January 24, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Your name is spelled incorrectly.
    Cuba’s Poder Popular upon which Cuban society is supposed to operate is a marvelously democratic form which is unique in history .
    Once the pressures of the existential war on the society by the U.S are removed, we will then and only then be able to see whether Cuba becomes highly successful under Poder Popular.
    If it remains totalitarian it will fail
    Will you admit that you yourself prefer totalitarian capitalism to democratic economies ?
    You again lose track of the reality that the only reason for the long-running U.S assault on Cuba’s economy is to make it appear bad and an inherent failure.
    The U.S. dares not lift that embargo because it KNOWS that Cuba will likely thrive once that is done. .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *