A look at the new immigration regulations
By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — Anything relating to immigration is a top-priority on Cuba’s current political agenda, for many reasons.
Firstly, because emigres play a crucial (economic, cultural and political) role in the island’s present and this will grow in the future. Secondly because they have been the hostages in the dispute between the Cuban and US governments, the latter being home to 90% of Cuba’s diaspora.
And lastly, because any relaxation is new, if we take into account that the Cuban government’s policy with regard to its emigres has been frequently hostile, plundering and scornful, and these migrants were described for several decades as moral and political scum that had no place in the new revolutionary project.
At least that’s what happened until the ‘90s, but then they became the main providers of household consumption amidst a crisis that was set off and has never ended, and a key source of support for Cuba’s reduced balance of payments.
Now, the subject has become news again, when the Cuban foreign minister – one of the dullest creatures in the official political zoo – announced opening measures.
1 – The so-called “facilitation” stamp, which is twice-yearly permission to visit for visiting the island for a maximum of 90 days.
2 – Those who have yachts can now enter Cuban waters and go to several harbors made available to them.
3 – Children of Cubans born abroad can be nationalized without having to take up residence on the island.
4 – Some rights of Cubans who left Cuba “illegally” (as their official document states and who haven’t been able to visit the island until now) have been recognized.
The announcement was made at a meeting with Cuban people and organizations that tend to support the Cuban government and are located in the United States, a partial and sectarian sample that the Cuban government calls the representatives of Cuban emigres.
The foreign minister stated that Cuba is opening itself up, while the United States is closing itself off, referring to the punitive measures imposed by the Trump administration, which still haven’t been justified.
However, Rodriguez forgot to clarify that the United States is “closing” its international relationship with Cuba (in this case it doesn’t matter how wretched its policy has been) while the Cuban government is “opening” its relationship with its own citizens. And it is only opening a little crack in a closed, dark, smoke-filled room.
There are two matters that are worth noting.
Firstly, that the changes the ambassador announced continue to leave the country with the track record of being the state that has the worst relationship with its emigres, who it depends on financially. None of the changes have to do with rights, just like when the migration reform law in 2013 came about.
Like then, this is about pragmatic measures that are centered around keeping a steady flow of Cubans to the island at a time when the Cuban embassy – given its cuts in staff – can’t process tens of thousands entrance visas for a maximum 90-day period per year, which were issued to some Cuban emigres so they could visit the country where they were born.
This is, without a doubt, a positive step in terms of bureaucracy, but it isn’t about or have anything to do with Cuban emigres’ right to visit their Homeland freely, or to reside in Cuba without a visa, to own property or have civil and political rights on the island, etc.
For example, it isn’t hard to tell that the elimination of the visa to visit the country is extremely limited by existing laws. These state that emigres who have (I’m writing this almost word for word) organized, promoted, carried out or participated in hostile actions against the political, economic and social principles of the Cuban State, can’t enter the country.
Let it be known that it doesn’t specify what these verbs of involvement mean, or what should be interpreted as a “hostile act”, even less so what the current order means. The Cuban State clearly has the right of exclusion still in its hands, benefitting its authoritarian government, but harmful to the notion of citizenship. There aren’t any rights: just more relaxed permissions.
The second issue is the international context that this decision is being made in. This isn’t the result of an outlook to open up the country in light of relaxing bilateral tensions. This would have been the case if this measure had been adopted when Barack Obama opened up relations, getting rid of many restrictive policies and visited Havana as a sign of good will. Conversely, at that time, the Cuban government’s reaction was to intensify repression and to denounce the Democratic Party president as an enemy wearing silk gloves.
This decision has come at a critical time, as a useful maneuver to keep billions of emigre USD coming into the island, without which millions of Cubans on the island would be sunk into the most awful poverty and the Government would be bankrupt in the face of the financial havoc they have created.
The news talks about the cheers and applauses of Cuban emigres who were invited to the meeting with the foreign minister. What exactly were they applauding?