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 11:32 am

    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 .

  • January 24, 2014 at 11:19 am

    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 .

  • January 24, 2014 at 11:12 am

    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.

  • January 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm

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

  • January 23, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    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!

  • January 23, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    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

  • January 23, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    thank you…

  • January 23, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    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.

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