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?

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. .

  • 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. .

  • Bill Gates is hardly one to rely upon for predictions regarding the fate of the poor but I agree with his conclusions if not for the same reasons he would use.
    By 2030 or that 2035 date he uses there will be no more capitalism because automation will replace most jobs .
    No jobs=no paychecks= massive unemployment that cannot be handled by any government= a forced change to a system based upon human need rather than human greed/profit .
    This will be universal/worldwide .
    So-called philanthropists like Gates may well soothe their consciences with t giving a fraction of their wealth to the poor but as Martin Luther King Jr. said:
    “Philanthropy is commendable but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which makes philanthropy necessary.”
    Capitalism creates the great inequality in wealth ; the poverty for half the world that makes Bill Gates complicit in that greatest of crimes against humanity; the imposition of capitalism on the world .
    His charitable giving amounts to a mugger taking the wallets of the poor and tossing them a few pennies as he runs off.
    Were he a truly moral person he would be speaking out against the very capitalism that makes him so rich and billions of others so poor .

    He could easily afford a daily full page ad in the NYT that simply read ” Capitalism is the problem ” or perhaps just “Capitalism Sucks'” so most Americans would sort of get the idea .

  • Armstro,
    I am in complete agreement with the entirety of your post .
    Once the U.S calls off it economic and propaganda war on the people of Cuba we will have the chance to see whether or not Cuba’s home-grown ( autochthonous) brand of socialism can evolve to the democratic-bottom-up system it was intended to be and replace the current ossified bureaucracy .
    Absent that normalization of relations with Cuba’s natural trading partner and the loss of money related to the U.S hostilities, we cannot expect a change within Cuba which faces the same existential threat from U.S imperialism that has doomed so many other attempts at democratic economies over the past century .

  • I.C. ,
    Communism is a future society and the possibility for such is at least 15 -25 years off and after the demise of capitalism .
    Since communism is a future possibility and has never existed to this point, it makes no sense for you to say that it goes hand in hand with totalitarian governments .
    You need to go back to school on this.

  • Thriving society? Good example? ….Based on what? Are there other totalitarian systems that have been successful?

  • I think you should find some new books.

    The failure of Cuba is the failure of central planning, period! As soon as the Castros are gone so will their cult of personality. The Cuban people will then be free to embrace capitalism. Then and only then will Cuba begin to rebuild. As long as they stay with the failures of their fascist communism, there will be no progress!

  • Communism and totalitarian governments go hand in hand.
    But in your mind I’m sure you are expecting the starship Enterprise to fly in with your future communist system

    The Cuban people have spent so long being told what they can and can’t do that the as like children in a toy store when handed the simplest of freedoms

  • thank you…

  • It’s interesting that you say the Cuban people are determined to Not be told what to do by the United States. My friend the Cuban people do not care who tells them what to do, the majority of them are just sick to death of others, anyone, telling them how to live, how much money they can make, what they can think, say, do.
    When they talk of their government they look over their shoulders to see who is looking/hearing and then start the conversation with, “the liars,” because that is what they know.
    I’m not an American lover, as a matter of fact just the opposite, I’m Canadian who knows Cuba well.
    Most Cubans don’t want an American system, but all do want just a little more. They want life to be a little easier. They want a system that they can have a little say in, and isn’t that what we all want? The youth see no future, the old hold many regrets for what they have done to the youth.
    Most of the people I know in Cuba do not want “our” system, they believe in socialism they just want their form of it fixed.

  • Why does this site only publish the article in its English version and not in Spanish, the language it was written and originally published in?

  • So after robbing Cubans of their property, driving them from their homeland and calling them enemies, traitors and gusanos, the Castro regime is now begging them to come back and invest in Cuba. But without any right or guarantees they won’t get robbed again.

    Who would be so stupid to fall for that?

  • History does not run on the iron rails of certainty that trap your mind.

    While I suppose he’s neither as brilliant nor as well informed about fabulous socialism as you are, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has quite a different outlook on the future:

    “In their sixth annual letter published Tuesday, Bill Gates writes that the first myth floated by some is that poor countries are doomed to stay poor. He says that’s not true, and he predicts that by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.”


  • On average, Cuban émigrés are better off than other Latin American immigrants. They have higher educations, live in better homes and have better jobs.

  • I have always said that Cuba’s government and its economic form, which the uneducated confuse with communism, are totalitarian ( a bad thing in case you didn’t know that )
    Those are internal to Cuba and negative.
    The condition of the Cuban economy, however is only partly the fault of Cuba’s internal workings and largely the fault of the U.S economic war on the people of Cuba waged in order to immiserate the population and cause them to rise up and restore capitalism .
    That war has succeeded in impoverishing the island but failed to convince those affected that the restoration of capitalism-the purpose of the embargo- would be preferable to what has been imposed upon them.
    You would do well to go to the “Killing Hope ” website and read the INTRODUCTION to the book and then review the 54 U.S. interventions which the book details so that you have some understanding of what U.S. foreign policy is all about.
    You do not seem to have any understanding of it.
    My bet is that you will be unable and are unwilling to read this one book which will put the lie to what you now believe about the beneficence of U.S. foreign policy .
    It is far easier for the corporate media and the GOUSA to have you believe their lies than it is for you to accept that you have been lied to.
    Test that out at “Killing Hope” if you dare.

  • SFB,
    The two are not mutually exclusive.
    Cuba has many outstanding social achievements amidst a generally poor society just as there are 50 million in poverty amidst the thousands of millionaires in the rich U.S.
    Again, were the U.S to call off its economic squeeze on the island and were it never to have waged it in the first place , Cuba would be a thriving society that would represent the good example to the world and the most serious threat to capitalism that makes that economic war necessary .
    Is this too difficult for you to understand ?

  • Communism is a FUTURE system which follows democratic socialism . Since democratic socialism has not yet come into being -the European social welfare states are capitalist -it is not possible for a communist society to have yet existed .
    It would be best were you to understand what the various economic and political forms are before you engage in debate with those who do.
    Cuba is a totalitarian state with a socialist-style means of distribution of the essential goods and services .
    It is, by no stretch of the definition, communist.
    Whether Cuba rises or falls has yet to be determined but it is likely that they will hold out at least until the U.S calls off its economic war on them and /or until capitalism collapses of its own inherent drive for profits which will bring about full automation of the workforce within 15 years .
    (Google up “when machines replace humans ” or ” the technological future of labor” for many hundreds of articles on this.)
    The Cuban people are determined to NOT be told what to do by the United States and would rather have the totalitarian state they have than the totalitarianism of the capitalism they threw out .

  • My apologies. I am typing this on my phone. …small touch screen keyboard, large fingers. What I meant to say is that the average Cuban averaged $20 a month and that Cubans suffer from under employment even at that pay scale. Those that work for the government sit around and twiddle their thumbs

  • After 50+ years you would think that Cubans would know if life were good or bad in the USA and act according irrespective of wet foot / dry foot. Yet for 50+ years Cubans continue to migrate one way.

    Soon enough Cuba will join the rest of the former communist government in the trash heap of history

    Your last point, as usual, tries to compare Cuba with the poverty stricken third world. Yet before the revolution Cuba enjoyed a standard of living similarly go many European countries (UN statistical) even Castro said that the revolution was born with a silver spoon in its mouth. You and other defenders of the failed revolution ate relegated to now having to compare it to third world countries in order to excuse the disaster that is today’s Cuba

  • That’s not what the article said. You are referring to the NPR story on “Cuban Americans and the Elusive American Dream”. What the article actually said was that 45 % of Cuban Americans say their finances are not so good”, they did not say they were living in poverty. One of the issues in South Florida is that our economy is lagging a bit behind the rest of the nation. Yet I assure you, her home is not crumbling and she has plenty to eat. Indeed the poorest souls in the USA live better than the average Cuban. And despite your claims on previous posts their is under employment (indeed it’s a house of cards) and besides, working for $220 an hour, despite the fraud of the “libreta”, does not put food on the table

  • Why does it seem that John Goodrich blames anything and everything negative about Cuba on the USA?

  • Which is it JG? In many earlier comments you praise the quality of life in Cuba as sustained by the WHO index and UNESCO infant mortality rates and the noble Poder Popular, etc. and now you lament of life in a poor Third World country?

  • Of course as usual you choose to lie by omitting mention of:
    1) the 54 year old economic war being waged upon the entire Cuban population by the U.S which creates heavier emigration
    2) the “wet-foot, dry-foot ” clause of the CAA which grants automatic admission to Cubans only while simultaneously maintaining a very difficult legal process for emigres AND were that “wet foot-dry foot” clause to apply to every country in the Caribbean and Latin America you’d be able to walk to Florida across all the boats and rafts heading that way .
    3) that there is always a flow of humans from poorer countries to richer ones for obvious reasons
    4) that your comparison of life in a poor Third World country under economic attack by the richest country in the world to that richest of all countries is hardly a fair comparison i.e. another form of lying that you find necessary to make your fraudulent case.

  • I doubt, as usual, that your statistics are accurate but for once the underlying point you attempted to make is valid. Life is tough in the US. Yet, and this is important so read it carefully, life is still exponentially BETTER for most Cubans in the US than it is in Cuba. Even the few homeless Cubans living on the streets in Hialeah would likely refuse to board a boat headed back to Cuba. Why is that? Even though in Cuba they at least had a roof over their head and maybe an egg and a bowl of rice to eat once a day, they still decide to stay. It is because even the hint of freedom, even as a concept is more appealing than the known repression that exists in Cuba. If this were not so, there would be rafts headed back to Cuba every day. Have you ever heard of one? Neither have I. So yes, if you are trying to say that for some, life in the US sucks and it is appears it will get worse before it gets better. I agree with you. But know this: IT SUCKS WORSE IN CUBA.

  • A report on Florida’s WRLN NPR outlet today on the Cuban émigré community in Miami said that some 45% were living in poverty
    The report had in it the story of a Cuban girl who had graduated high school here in the USA and had not been able to find a job for three years .
    The report said that the first wave of Cubans after the revolution hit Miami when it was transforming from a small southern town into the burgeoning and international city it is today and a great many made a lot of money and /or a good living during those boom years .
    Today the situation is much different as capitalism for the lower income groups of all stripes is failing them all across the country and those with limited skills and English language skills have it that much harder.
    The old saying that in America ( USA) anyone can become rich may still be true but the reality is that damned few ever get the opportunity and the bulk of Cuban-Americans, just like the bulk of all Americans, will overwhelmingly tend to be poorer than their parents in an already worse off community .

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