According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is part of the United Nations system, in 2020 1,757,300 people who were born on the island lived outside of Cuba. The United States Census Office, for its part, reported that in 2019 1,359,990 people born in Cuba lived in that country. Around half a million of those Cubans who live in other countries maintain their residence on the island.
The relationship of the Cuban state and government with their emigration — strongly conditioned by the conflict between the governments of Cuba and the United States — has evolved over the years since the first Dialogue was held in 1978, milestones from which a series of reforms were initiated to normalize relations with emigration. The immigration reform that came into force in 2013 brought with it the most important changes in this regard in recent years; however, the speed and depth of the measures that have to do with Cuban emigration have not been sufficient, especially if we take into account the role that this can play in the socioeconomic development of the country and the spirit of the new Constitution approved in 2019.
Most of OnCuba’s readers are interested in topics related to Cuban emigration, either because they are part of it or because their relatives and friends live outside the island. They let us know this through different means. We have been able to identify that the fundamental claims and concerns have to do with: cost of consular procedures and customs fees, migratory categories and their consequent inequalities of rights, participation of emigration in the Cuban economy, political participation, citizen rights and the role of Cuban emigration (in rhetoric and in practice) in the Nation project.
To discuss some of these issues, we interviewed Ernesto Soberón, head of the General Department of Consular Affairs and Attention to Cuban Residents Abroad (DACCRE), of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, by email.
The Cuban government has repeatedly said that it is interested in strengthening and expanding ties with the Cuban community residing abroad and with that objective, several measures have been approved over the years. How do you plan to expand and deepen the immigration policy to achieve that objective?
With the “1978 Dialogue,” promoted by our Commander in Chief (Fidel Castro), a continuous and irreversible process of rapprochement between Cuba and its nationals abroad began, whose most dynamic element has been the evolution, improvement and continuous study of our country’s immigration policy. That is the spirit that has accompanied the successive updates of our immigration policy, the most recent in 2013, 2016 and 2018.
With the implementation of the new immigration measures, every day it is more frequent and normal for Cuban citizens residing in Cuba and abroad to travel in one direction or another, mainly to and from the United States.
Between 2013 and 2018, Cuban citizens made 3, 462,076 trips abroad, which denotes a growth of 375% with respect to the 2008-2012 period.
At the same time, after the measures adopted in 2013, 2,418,270 trips were made to our country by our nationals residing abroad, of which 77% traveled from the United States. Compared with the 2008-2012 period, the entry into Cuba of Cubans residing abroad grew by 43%. During 2019, 650,040 Cubans residing in the national territory made 1,307,523 trips abroad for private reasons, which is 18% higher than the previous year.
Specifically, to the United States, 226,322 Cuban citizens (34.82% of total travelers in the year) made 491,529 trips (37.59% of total trips in the year), which represented a growth of 2.7% and 10.6% respectively, compared to 2018.
Meanwhile, in 2019 itself, there were 623,831 entries to the national territory by 346,381 Cubans residing abroad, which represented an increase of 3.9% and 2.6% respectively, with respect to 2018. From the United States, 295,774 Cubans (85.39% of total travelers in the year) made 552,816 trips to Cuba (88.62% of total trips in the year), which, based on 2018 data, represented a growth of 0.08% and 6.05% respectively.
In 2020, during the periods in which our international airports remained open, 271,061 Cubans made 375,643 trips abroad for private reasons; while 106,456 of our nationals residing abroad made 150,454 trips to Cuba.
Recently, as part of the Cuban government’s commitment to the Cuban community abroad, during these more than 18 months of pandemic, dissimilar actions have been developed, such as monitoring and assistance to our citizens who fell ill with COVID-19; the organization of charter flights and return to the national territory for Cubans who were stranded in other countries; the possibility for Cuban citizens residing in Cuba to return with their expired passport and without extension; the decision to waive the payment of the extension of stay abroad for a period greater than the established 24 months, and distance consular procedures continue being promoted.
These measures have been aimed at strengthening the attention to our compatriots abroad, taking into account the complexities imposed by the current pandemic.
One of the permanent claims of the Cuban community abroad has to do with consular matters, for example: the cost of the passport (the most expensive in the world if it is made outside of Cuba and which needs two extensions). Would the price and/or eliminating the extensions be taken into account?
As has been stated previously, there are still pending issues related to the attention to and relations with our nationals abroad, among which is the extension of the passport, the consular fee or its price and its validity. Furthermore, we understand that it is a matter of great interest to the vast majority of our nationals abroad and their relatives in Cuba; its solution will also contribute to strengthening ties with Cubans living abroad.
All the immigration measures adopted in recent decades have had the strategic objective of strengthening ties with Cubans living abroad.
We know people who are prohibited from entering Cuba without being informed of the cause of said prohibition and without open proceedings for alleged crimes. What is your opinion on this? For what reasons can a Cuban citizen be prohibited from entering his/her country and what procedures should be followed to do so?
The limitation of indefinite entry of Cuban citizens to Cuba is linked to our national security, as provided in Cuban laws. In this understanding, a tiny group of Cubans currently have a limited entry into the national territory because they are linked to more reactionary sectors of the anti-Cuban extreme right.
Based on the above, it can be stated categorically that the vast majority of Cubans today can enter and leave the country without any difficulty, and only need a passport, money and visa for the country to which they will travel, if that country requires it, requirements that apply to the rest of the citizens of the world to travel outside their country of origin.
Within the meager group of Cuban citizens who have a restriction on entering the country, those with a temporary entry restriction due to abandonment of their official mission are also included. This measure expires once the established time elapses, and after which these citizens can enter the country without any other regulation or requirement.
Regarding the limitation of temporary entry for Cuban citizens who leave an official mission, the criteria are as numerous as they are dissimilar, but when dealing with this phenomenon it must be taken into account that the abandonment of an official mission is an act that has various negative implications, for Cuba and for the country where our collaborators provide their services.
The official Cuban discourse has called for the inclusion and participation of “all Cubans who want the good of their country” in the island’s socioeconomic development. According to you, what would be the horizon of that participation and what are the steps to achieve it? Is, for example, the participation of the community residing abroad contemplated in the decisions regarding laws that imply it?
Based on the will of our government to strengthen and diversify the existing ties between the nation and our compatriots abroad, in recent years, exchanges (academic, scientific, cultural, sports or others) between Cuban citizens residing in other countries, including the United States, and Cuban institutions have been promoted and have increased.
The participation of Cubans residing abroad in the debate on the draft Constitution was an unprecedented event in the history of the Revolution and an important step in linking our nationals living in other countries with the country’s political processes.
During this exercise of voluntary participation:
- Comments were received from more than 130 countries, meeting the objective that Cubans around the world could participate in the process.
- 40% of the proposals received are included in the constitutional text endorsed by the majority of the Cuban people, through popular vote.
Subsequently, the new Constitution was endorsed by the majority of the Cuban population, including Cubans who came from abroad to vote and who were able to do so freely, according to their own conceptions and criteria, because they have that right, associated, according to Cuban laws, to their residence in the country.
With the computerization of society in Cuba and the implementation of the e-government program, as was done with the popular consultation on the draft Constitution, Cubans residing in the national territory and abroad have channels to learn about what is being legislated in the country, interact and express their opinions in this regard.
For several years, Cuba has been transforming its economic model, diversifying the forms of ownership, as well as the actors in the economy. Last June, the Council of Ministers approved the creation of micro, small and medium-sized private companies (MSMEs), however, the recently published regulations do not include Cubans residing abroad (CRA). The Foreign Investment Law, for its part, does not prevent CRA from investing in Cuba, but the cases have been very few. Is there an intention to promote the investment of CRA in Cuba, if so, what advantages would they have?
The current transformations to boost and invigorate the Cuban economy open new spaces for the participation of Cubans residing abroad in the country’s socioeconomic development processes, based on existing opportunities in terms of investment, collaboration, business and local development projects. The conditions and bases are being created from the legislative point of view, opening a new door in the diversification of relations between our country and Cubans abroad.
At present, most of the Cubans residing abroad maintain a fluid relationship with Cuba, they are interested in the country’s situation and in contributing to its socioeconomic development.
In this sense, work is being carried out on the identification of foreign investment business proposals of different amounts, including discrete amounts and local projects, in such a way that they facilitate the possibility of contributing to the development of the country on the local level, if that were the preference. Cuban law applies equally to investors from all countries, without establishing discriminatory criteria.
However, given this range of projects and possibilities, the blockade constitutes the main obstacle for investors, including our nationals, to be able to insert themselves into local development projects or investments.
As part of the contribution of our nationals in different spheres to the development of the country, the work of Cubans who, from other sectors, contribute to the debate on the Cuban reality, from an objective position, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba and the right to our self-determination is equally relevant.
We also consider it necessary and important to bring young Cubans and descendants living abroad closer to our culture, national identity, history, traditions and Cuban reality; where cultural and educational institutions, Cuban and American, can play a very important role.
The Nation and Emigration conference that was supposed to be held in April last year had to be postponed for obvious reasons of the health situation that the world has experienced. Is there a new date planned for it? What would be that meeting’s main agenda? Would the same call for participation be maintained? What are the main issues and demands of the CRA community that DACRE has identified?
The postponement of the 4th The Nation and Emigration Conference was due to the epidemiological situation in the country, which remains complex, which is why in the short term it will not be possible to hold it in person.
The interest in holding it remains, there is no discussion about this. The fact that it remains postponed does not mean that it is canceled and it will be scheduled in due course, for which it will be necessary to update the exchange points, adapt the agenda to the current context as a result of the most recent events and decisions, such as the economic transformations and the opportunities opening up with them to strengthen ties between Cuba and its nationals abroad.
Nor can the Conference be seen as an end in itself. That is, there have been three previous editions and there is no doubt that it is a moment with a high degree of symbolism, of exchange with the Cuban community abroad, in addition to its taking place in Cuba, but the Conference has not always been the key moment for the announcement and adoption of immigration measures, at least it has not happened like this in recent times.
During all these years we have promoted meetings with our nationals abroad, with the aim of taking advantage of every space that allows exchange, interaction and contributes to the development of ties between Cuba and Cubans residing abroad. In this sense, national and regional meetings, and with Cuban government delegations, have also functioned as feedback and exchange mechanisms with Cubans residing abroad.
The path on which we make a commitment with our nationals abroad, since 1978, has been the exchange based on respect and defense of Cuba’s sovereignty, and a greater relationship between our country and Cubans residing abroad.