Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How Far Can Cuba’s Raul Castro go on Immigration?

How Far Can Cuba's Raul Castro go on Immigration?
January 3, 2012
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 3 — No one should be mistaken. When something is
affirmed by the second-rate intellectuals of the Cuban government,
particularly those who don't enjoy the protection of Writers and Artists
Association (UNEAC) and the minister of Culture, it's because they've
heard it in some authorized setting.

Likewise, if they make these affirmations during tours of US
universities — where they give their showers of liberalism for export —
it's definitely because someone told them what they would be allowed to say.

That's why when I contrast the hemorrhaging of statements in support of
immigration reform by artists, academics and former functionaries with
what was just affirmed by Raul Castro at the last session of the
National Assembly of People's Power (parliament), I have no choice but
to think that Raul's updating actually has many limits. Among them may
be this issue of immigration.

It always seemed to me to be a display of stupidity to think — as some
of the academic spokespeople have suggested during their overseas tours
— that the general/president would leave us breathless with his
humanistic radicalism concerning this issue.

Nothing on the table

But I always believed — and on this I showed my own share of cretinism —
that he could have put something on the table. That's because the Cuban
immigration scenario is so motley, oppressive, repressive and miserable
that there's plenty of room for moving around without touching the
sensitive keys.

For example, he could have announced a reduction in fees, the extension
of time for permitted stays on trips abroad, and the elimination of some
medieval documents like the letter of invitation.

This, along with the release of 3,000 prisoners (a welcomed measure),
could have permitted the reunification of many families that remain
separated by provisions of Cuba's immigration authorities.

But instead of any change, no matter how small, what Raul Castro gave us
was the same tired verbiage justifying fifty years of internal
repression due to the dispute with the United States.

On the one hand, he explained that nothing can be changed right now,
because any movement threatens the "fate of the revolution and the
nation." Always taking into account "the exceptional circumstances in
which Cuba lives under a siege that involves subversive political
interference by the United States government, always on the lookout for
any opportunity to achieve its known aims."

Secondly, he reiterated his commitment to resolve this problem, though
without defining the problem or saying how or when he would resolve it,
let alone explaining how we can believe him when for five decades he has
been one of the creators of Cuban immigration policy, a mechanism of
unhappiness and oppression.

No easy way out

I reiterate that this issue will be particularly difficult to solve for
Cuba's leaders. Moreover, the disparity between spokespeople themselves,
crying out for changes that never come, could indicate internal
contradictions within the elite.

One part of them understand what must be "updated" as producing enough
change to make better economic use of migration, which in the narrow
vision of reformist technocrats means remittances, tourists and
prospective investors).

Another part of them still cling to the old notions of making money off
emigrants, which produces significant revenues for an economy in
permanent crisis. This outlook sees there being only two types of
emigrants: either objectionable counter-revolutionaries or good patriots
who dance salsa, admire the flag and occasionally demand freedom for the
five heroes.

But beyond economics, the way in which the Cuban government has handled
the issue of immigration makes it a key part of its strategy of social
and political domination.

For millions of islanders, travelling is an essential action –
economically and spiritually. It is a means of earning the money to cope
with the hardships of the island, visiting with families and friends,
and finally breathing less asphyxiating air. It's like this both for
workers and intellectuals.

If Cubans, regardless of their present social status, could travel
without asking permission, be free to decide the dates of their coming
and going, and travel without having to pay for expensive consular
services the Cuban government currently demands, this would be taking an
important step in dismantling the authoritarian political system.

This is one step that probably few in the Palace of the Revolution (the
executive government offices) would be willing to take.

Signing their death warrant

But if at the same time they lifted all of the provisions that prevent
emigrants from enjoying their legitimate rights as Cuban citizens
(without this there is no immigration normalization), particularly the
right to return, then this exclusionary and discriminatory political
system would be signing its own death warrant.

Surely this is not going to be done by the mercantilist technocrats or
by the ideologically rigid bureaucrats.

The issue is very clear: Cuban immigration policy is a huge mechanism
for expropriating the rights of Cubans. It is an instrument of
repression, social coercion and fiscal abuses, which is true both for
Cubans on the island and those who have emigrated.

The condition of kidnapped citizenship that is suffered by migrants is
the perfect counterpart to the incomplete citizenship affecting the
inhabitants of the island. It couldn't be otherwise, simply because one
and another condition are the results of a government that places itself
over its citizens to manage their civil and political rights, which it
confiscates, delegates and revokes according to the circumstances.

If Raul Castro is indeed seeking to normalize relations between the
island community and those who emigrated, he must publicly state the
dimensions and scope that he envisages.

He needs to set a timetable of gradual actions to be taken within a
period not exceeding three years (before he leaves office) that will
absolutely and unequivocally lead to the right of Cubans to freely leave
and enter the country.

He must authorize opportunities for autonomous discussions and
consultations among and between the insular and émigré communities. Of
course I'm not talking about the so-called "Emigracion con la Nacion"
(Emigrants with the Nation) conferences, those insipid meetings between
pro-government emigrant minorities and immigration officials of that
same government. In other words, those meetings that represent neither
the nation nor its emigrants.

There will be no solution to this issue if Cuba's authorities maintain
their exclusionary policies, their Manichean perspective and their
hypocritical ideological squeamishness, hiding their mean spiritedness
behind threadbare clothing of what remains of the country for us.

All this is taking place under an abhorrent political system, an economy
in ruins, a population that's not growing and in a situation where many
people are leaving, never to return.


(*) A Havana Times translation of the Spanish original posted by


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