Cuba-USA: Embassies and Average Cubans / Ivan Garcia
Posted on July 28, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 19 July 2015 — Norge imagines himself sipping Cuban coffee
at the Versailles restaurant in Miami on July 20 as officials of the
Castro regime in white guayaberas and Americans in jackets and ties
listen to their national anthems being played and watch flags being
hoisted at their respective embassies in Washington and Havana.
For a couple of months he has been planning an illegal escape from the
northern coast of the island with a group of friends. Days before
setting off to sea in a metal boat outfitted with a diesel engine, Norge
consults his Santeria priestess to see if luck is on his side.
The woman throws several snails onto a wooden board and says, "Now is
the time." The rafters then accelerate their plans.
"Once diplomatic relations are reestablished between Cuba and the United
States, the Cuban Adjustment Act's days will be numbered. I don't have
family in the yuma* and it isn't getting any easier here. As usual,
things keep going downhill, so I hope to be playing dominos in Miami on
July 20," Norge says optimistically.
He and his friends have played their last cards. "Some sold their cars
and other valuables to raise money so we could build the safest boat
possible. We've gotten GPS and some members of the group also have
maritime experience," he notes.
No sooner had President Obama and General Castro concluded their
respective speeches on December 17, 2014 in which they announced their
decision to reestablish diplomatic relations than Cubans who had been
thinking about emigrating, legally or illegally, to the yuma began
speeding up their plans.
If you talk to people who have been waiting since dawn in a park across
the street from the future U.S. embassy in Vedado for a consular
interview, you will find that the new diplomatic landscape has made them
more dubious than happy.
A significant number of Cubans are planning to leave permanently or are
applying for temporary visas before the United States turns off the spigot.
"I can already see it coming. For every ten people interviewed for
tourist visas, nine are turned down. I think that, after relations are
restored on July 20, they'll only approve family reunification trips.
Temporary visas will be reserved for government officials and
dissidents," claims Servando who, in spite of being twice denied a visa
to visit his daughter, keeps on trying.
The numbers speak for themselves. According to the U.S. Immigration
Service almost nineteen million Cubans have entered the country by sea
or overland from Mexico since the beginning of the fiscal year on
October 1, a figure equivalent to the total for the previous year. Since
the diplomatic thaw was announced, the figure is two-thirds that.
The increase in the number of undocumented Cubans arriving in the United
States due to the resumption of diplomatic relations is so high that
social service agencies in Florida cannot cope. They are near collapse,
with two month-long waiting lists, as press reports indicate.
This situation is hindering resettlement of people in other states as
well as delaying work permits and emergency financial relief. Newcomers
fear the resumption of diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level
will put an end to immigration laws favorable to Cubans.
Analysts have said that the steps taken by the Obama administration do
not alert the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is not in danger and which
cannot simply be repealed by a presidential decree.
In essence it is what is referred to as a public law (Public Law
89-7320). It was passed by the 89th Congress and has the status of a
federal statute. In contrast to so-called private laws, it deals with
issues of general interest and can only be amended, revised or revoked
by the Congress of the United States.
Several Cuban-American politicians have called for it to be repealed or
at least amended to reflect current realities. A significant number of
Cubans granted protection under the Cuban Adjustment Act have been
visiting the island in recent months on a kind of spree.
Curiously, their views coincide with those of the aged military regime.
Cuba is the only country on the planet which seeks repeal of a law whose
outcome would adversely impact its citizens' emigration prospects and
If the prospects are troubling for those with dreams of emigrating to
the United States, for new private-sector entrepreneurs the political
shift of two nations caught up in their own Cold War looks promising.
Onelio, the owner of a four-car fleet of cars and jeeps used as
collective taxis, believes the reestablishment of diplomatic relations
represents a golden business opportunity.
"If the government wants people to live better, then things have to
change. First they have to lift the internal embargo on small business
owners and stop being afraid that Cubans might make a lot of money. Then
they will have to come up with a strategy to make Obama's proposals
effective so that the people can benefit from them. If they keep singing
the same old tune (outdated rhetoric), the mask will fall and the world
will see who is really responsible for poverty in Cuba, "says Onelio.
The majority of the population applauds the new political script. "It's
better to live in peace and harmony," says a Havana taxi driver. "People
are tired of the scary rhetoric against the United States. The Americans
are our neighbors and have always been seen as an example by the average
Cuban, both before the revolution and now. The rest is cheap political
Afro-Cubans move at a different pace compared to their nation's leaders.
Seven months after the historical accord, the island's population
aspires to more than a name change for the U.S. Interests Section.
"People want to see concrete things," notes Rosario. "More food, the
city and its housing renovated, improvements in transport, broadband
internet, inexpensive international phone calls, cheaper airline tickets
and for private business people to be able to import directly from the
United States. None of that is happening. We don't want more blather; we
want to see advances."
Even the dissident community is divided. One group supports the new
policies while another believes too much has been given up without
getting anything from an autocratic regime clinging to the past.
Cuba's ruler live in another galaxy. They have a sense of vertigo. They
plan on taking things slow so as not to lose control.
For now, the benefits of change exist only in the analyses and the
conjectures of academics, politicians and journalists. Therefore, the
plans of those such as Norge, who are fleeing the country on makeshift
rafts, are taking on added urgency. "God willing, I will watch the
embassy ceremonies on television. From Miami. "
*Translator' note: Cuban slang for the United States.
Source: Cuba-USA: Embassies and Average Cubans / Ivan Garcia |
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