“All those women were from Cuba. They separated them. They were in a cell without water. From that cell, a woman told us that she had been told that they could drink the toilet water. They told us how the authorities cleaned everything up in a hurry before we arrived at the facility. They told us that the policy that they could bathe just once every two weeks was almost official.”
These were the words of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with the magazine Mother Jones about her visit to several facilities of the immigration authorities on the border between Mexico and Texas, in the United States. The congresswoman from the Bronx-Queens in New York denounced in this way what she described as an unworthy treatment of American democracy towards immigrants from several Latin American countries, mostly from the North Central American triangle who knocked on the door of the country to ask for refuge in the face of problems in their countries of origin.
It was a timely coincidence that those women interviewed by the delegation of sixteen congresspersons chaired by Joaquin Castro (D-TX) were Cuban because it’s not often that Cuban migrants are mentioned, in those same conditions of migration through Mexico and the Central American isthmus. Many of them―I know from the experience of seeing them arrive in the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa―are victims of the same abuses from those countries’ authorities, from the traffickers in persons, and now according to their own denunciation, from the Trump administration’s policy.
Already in 2018, living on the border, and crossing to Mexico, to have lunch there and feel there the political situation of the country―in the middle of the election campaign then―and the border, I had the experience of finding Cuban compatriots living in the open, at the entrance to the Rio Grande bridges. They were Cubans from Santa Clara, Havana and Guantánamo, waiting without any sanitary conditions to be processed by immigration authorities.
Since 2016 onwards, Cuban migrants to the U.S. started being treated at the border the same as Latin Americans in general. It is not that the privileges associated with the Cuban Adjustment Act were lost, but in the future it became stormier to enter the U.S. with the so-called parole that sets off the countdown for a year and a day to request a status adjustment.
It is difficult to separate the situation of the Cuban women urged to drink toilet water, and the helplessness of those compatriots sleeping in parks near the border crossings, at the mercy of the gang violence that dominates the north of Mexico, of the changes in migratory policy introduced by the Republican administration of President Trump and the increased hostility against Cuba that has characterized his vision and action about the island.
From President Trump’s public statements, to the clashes he has had with members of his own administration (the two secretaries, approved by Congress, of homeland security, and two of the heads of the institute in charge of immigration matters, that works under that department, have resigned) it is logical to deduce that the policy towards migration does not seek an all-encompassing and comprehensive solution for its management.
On the contrary, the President has sought to use the issue for the 2020 elections to mobilize his xenophobic rank-and-file, to use policies and statements towards the issuing countries disconnected from the worsening situations caused by the conditions in them (such as cutting aid to Central America and making it difficult in Cuba to comply with the 1995 migration agreement) and, on the border, tormenting the asylum seekers, hoping that this torment will deter those desperate to come to the U.S.
Who has defended the Cuban women emigrants?
So as not to be confused, emigration is a complex problem with factors that push from the countries of origin and others that attract to arrive in the receiving country. Migrating is not a pleasure trip, and the decision to do so implies a heartbreaking rupture with the country where one has been born and has gown up. Cubans who emigrate do so because of serious dissatisfaction with the conditions in which they live in Cuba. These conditions, aggravated by the embargo/blockade and other actions of hostility by the U.S. government, are primarily the result of policy decisions, conditions and behavior of the Cuban government and society. To speak of emigration for economic reasons, eluding the political connections of a country’s situation, is inconceivable in almost all social theories, even less credible in a government that claims to be Marxist.
The government of Cuba has been able to do much to resolve the crisis situation that the country is experiencing, and even make the embargo/blockade irrelevant and has wasted a lot of time. If many necessary political and economic changes have been postponed, it has been to defend privileges associated with the holders of power on the island, as well as the ideological rigidities and preferences of the Communist Party for political control over economic development. It is also painful that, no Cuban newspaper, nor any statement by any authority on the island, has denounced the situation of the Cuban women emigrants, reported on by the delegation of U.S. congresspersons.
The minimum the Cuban government should seek is the opening of consulates, on the Mexican or U.S. side, to address the humanitarian situation of its own nationals. Whether the communists like it or not, these women are from Cuba. If they are irresponsible to embark on a journey full of danger to then be abused on the U.S. border, they must have felt hopeless about the future that awaits them in a country blocked by the U.S. and governed by a Communist Party that in 60 years of absolute power has not structured a viable development strategy to make it irrelevant.
But nothing of what happens in Cuba justifies the torment to which those compatriots who try to emigrate to the United States, encouraged by networks of family and friends, and by the rhetoric of the Trump administration and its admirers in the Cuban-American community, are being exposed. The government of Cuba has respected these people’s decision to emigrate. No Cuban government official has told any of these Cubans to drink toilet water, or established that they have to bathe once every two weeks. If tomorrow the State Department wants to open the consular section of its embassy in Cuba to facilitate the granting of the 20,000 annual visas of the 1995 agreement, nobody in Cuba will block it. Those who have always been opposed to that, as they are now against the agreement with Major League baseball, are the Cuban-American congressmen, and their right-wing rank-and-file and allies.
It is ironic that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, probably the most vilified congresswoman by the right-wing Cubans in the U.S. for her declaration in favor of a democratic socialism (not inspired in Cuba or Venezuela, but in the Nordic countries, and the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt or even the tax code of the Eisenhower administration), is the political personality that exposed to public opinion the situation of the around 50 Cubans urged to drink from a toilet. An irony of fate that it is the left-wing magazine, “Mother Jones” not the Nuevo Herald or the Diario de las Américas, that has denounced that situation. Cubans tormented, oppressed and in disgrace are useful to the dominant establishment of Cuban-American politics in Miami only when they serve as a denunciation against the Cuban government, not when they are held and humiliated by ICE.
Where was Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Díaz-Balart when relatives and friends of their constituents were urged to drink toilet water and with the policy that they bathe once every two weeks? Lobbying to include Cuba again on the State Department’s list of terrorist countries, God knows with what invention.
Cuban José Díaz-Balart, brother of the two congresspersons worshiped in Miami, had the opportunity to ask President Trump himself about the situation of Cubans on the border, and he took it up as if it were only the other Latin Americans separately. Is it so difficult to ask the president about the incoherence of presenting Cuba as a Nazi Germany in the Caribbean―as his brother Mario Díaz-Balart has done―while denying quick entry and refuge to those who present themselves―in false analogy―as escaped from a North Korean “concentration camp” in the Caribbean?
Where were the Florida’s media and the constituents who voted for those representatives and those who have received the millions of dollars from USAID to promote human rights in the midst of so much torment to their compatriots? I don’t know where they were, but if it’s a question of political pressure, it is evident that they have not felt on their cheek the insult to other Cubans by the Trump administration, or if, they have felt it, they have expressed it very discreetly and above all, with very little effectiveness.
What if Trump goes wild and he gets a tantrum against Rubio or Díaz-Balart for showing solidarity with the Cubans in El Paso? There is the example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez standing straight. Whoever is afraid should buy a dog.
"There's abuse in these facilities": @AOC says migrants are "drinking water out of the toilet" at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas https://t.co/ia3uVLoCsj pic.twitter.com/zMULqe4ARO
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 2, 2019
The principle on which the United States was founded
These sectors of the Cuban right cannot be asked to distance themselves from the Trump administration. Indecorous to the gravitas that the presidency has, Trump took it out on his progressive rivals in Congress, among which is the voice that spoke of the torment to the Cuban women in the El Paso detention facility, sending them “back to their countries” if they don’t not like what is happening in the country. The right-wing Cubans cannot be asked to distance themselves from such incivility, since they themselves use these insults on a daily basis. Who opposed to a policy as illegal, immoral, counterproductive, anti-Cuban and anti-American as the embargo/blockade has not been told that “if you don’t like it, why don’t you go to Cuba”? My uncle Eddie Levy, who served with honors in the U.S. Navy, was told that in Miami, because of being in favor of dialogue with Cuba, by individuals who never dared wear the uniform, while defrauding the Treasury, in the capital of the Medicare fraud.
Really? Is there really any other political group of Latino origin in the United States willing to give carte blanche to a politicking attack by Trump against congresspersons, based on whether they or their parents were emigrants? Only the right-wing Cuban-Americans. They began by believing themselves superior to the rest of the Latin Americans, declaring themselves exiles, and superior to the emigrants, and now they leave their direct compatriots abandoned to mistreatment, the women of their country, of the same Cuba from which they or their parents came.
No matter how much they disguise it, they are paying again, they already did it with Jesse Helms, the political toll of making common cause with racism to continue with their dreams of revolutionaries dissatisfied with the revolution: it’s a different story now, without agreeing on or dialoging anything, entering one day in Havana on a tank. They have no idea of reality.
All this serves to reiterate a painful conclusion. The Cuban right in Florida continues to demonstrate every day that it will never be able to learn or forget anything, and worse, that it will never do anything for all the Cubans, not even something as clear as giving Cuban women water to drink, other than that of the toilet, and to bathe. When even the most basic defense of their compatriots dictates to Marco Rubio and Díaz-Balart to face policies that discredit the United States in the world, and are of basic reference in terms of human rights, they prefer the role of subordinates to the ultraconservative machinery to ask for solidarity with their dream of taking history back to 1959 and recovering their lost privileges and properties. A man is known by the company he keeps.
Neither good Cubans, nor good Americans. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the most popular president in American history, said that the principle on which the United States was founded is that Americanism (U.S. identity) is a matter of heart and conscience. Americanism is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of race or ancestry.