This Tuesday, June 13, the Cuban government officially convened the 4th The Nation and Emigration Conference. The event, which should have been held in April 2020, was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and since then the holding of an event that the island’s authorities consider “an expression of the unequivocal desire to continue deepening ties” with Cubans residing outside the country, has been expected.
“This conference is going to be the propitious moment to sit down to talk and project the future of Cuba’s relationship with its nationals abroad,” said Ernesto Soberón, Cuban Foreign Ministry general director of Consular Affairs and Attention to Cubans Resident Abroad (DACCRE), in statements to OnCuba.
The event has been scheduled for November 18 and 19 in Havana, in the context of the 45th anniversary of the Dialogue of 1978, which marked a turning point in relations between emigration — or, at least, a part of it — and the Cuban authorities, 20 years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
A 45 años del diálogo del 78, expresión del fortalecimiento continuo de vínculos entre Nación y su Emigración, invitamos a todos l@s cuban@s defensores de la independencia de la Patria a participar en la IV Conferencia @NacionyEmig https://t.co/KRoAEdQOcE pic.twitter.com/pxCmFL9JbA
— Nación y Emigración (@NacionyEmig) June 13, 2023
Almost half a century after those events and after three editions of The Nation and Emigration Conferences — 1994, 1995 and 2004 —, Cuba is a different country. It is, even, with respect to the country that was going to hold the fourth edition, three years ago. And so are relations with the community abroad.
Cuba is going through a severe economic crisis, accentuated by the effects of the pandemic, the U.S. embargo/blockade, and internal difficulties and inefficiencies. At the same time, it is carrying out a process of economic reforms that has given greater prominence to private initiative and has opened the door to Cubans residing abroad and which, however, has not achieved the expected takeoff.
The migratory wave experienced in the last two years reinforces the negative demographic dynamics of the island and swells the Cuban community abroad, officially estimated at more than 2 million people.
The daily shortages spur social unrest, the expression of which reached its climax in the protests of July 2021, which, in turn, fuels the political polarization of part of the emigration.
Cuba is also a country with a new Constitution and new laws, some approved and others under construction, as part of the legislative update derived from a new Magna Carta.
New regulations, definitive or temporary, respond to emigration claims, such as the extension of the validity period of the passport, the elimination of its extension, the reduction of its cost in the consulates, and the moratorium due to COVID-19 that allows Cubans to stay abroad for more than 24 months without losing residence on the island.
This is, roughly speaking, the context in which the 4th The Nation and Emigration Conference is announced, an event that, according to Soberón, will take place at “the best moment of Cuba’s ties with its nationals abroad.”
Below are the statements offered to our website about the Conference by the general director of DACCRE.
Ernesto Soberón: The call for the event for this year responds to the commitment to organize the Conference. When it was suspended in 2020, it was said that it was postponed and that, when the epidemiological situation allowed it, its organization, which was practically ready, would be resumed.
In November 2021 the borders were reopened, the recovery began and in 2022 and so far in 2023 the epidemiological situation has been improving, it is under control. The issue that remained pending was air connectivity. We have monitored this matter, to facilitate that, from the main points from where Cubans travel to the country, the arrival is easy and in the event, there can be the widest possible representation of the Cuban community abroad.
Representation is essential, because in all the events, and the same will happen in this one, the majority of the participants will come from the United States, where the largest community of Cubans abroad resides and from where it is easier to travel to Cuba. But we are also interested in greater representation because today we have Cubans in around 140 countries. And we want to listen to all of them and for our message to reach all the places where Cubans reside today.
Changes in context
The last Conference was in 2004. After 19 years we want to organize an event in tune with the context of the country and the links with Cubans abroad. In 2004 the context was different from the point of view of migratory flows, there did not exist the amount of Cubans traveling in one direction or another that there is today. Nor was there the number of Cubans living abroad that there are now, nor the number of Cubans who are abroad today and maintain their residence in Cuba.
There is also the 45th anniversary of the Dialogue of 1978, which takes place on November 20 and 21, and which was a transcendental moment for Cuba and, in particular, for relations with the community abroad.
Now the event was called for the 18th and 19th because it is a weekend, a more propitious time to be able to make a quick trip to Cuba, especially for those who live in the closest countries, the United States, Mexico and others in the area. Being held on a weekend allows Cubans to come, be at the event and return to the countries where they live in a short time, without affecting their professional life, work, and personal lives.
The call also responds to the moment in which we find ourselves in relations with our emigration. It is, without a doubt, the best moment of Cuba’s ties with its nationals abroad. It is a moment that we have reached 45 years after having begun the process of rebuilding these ties, beyond the political and ideological differences, and after having adopted a series of migratory measures in these years that have facilitated the ties and the trips of Cubans in one direction or another.
In addition, a new Constitution was approved that allows Cubans to have as many citizenships as they can obtain; measures and changes were adopted internally in the economic sphere, which facilitate the participation of Cubans residing outside Cuba in the socioeconomic and cultural life of the country; a path has been opened in terms of participation in processes of a political nature, such as the debates on the Constitution and the Family Code, and there is the possibility, in accordance with the Electoral Law, that Cubans who maintain residence in Cuba may come to the country and vote in the elections.
After all these modifications, this is a propitious moment to sit down to talk, debate, project the future of these ties and promote greater participation of Cubans residing abroad in the life of the country.
Organization of the Conference
The idea is to pick up the event where we left off. The first thing is to verify that those who were invited, who were over 700, are able and willing to attend. There is the possibility of having other people as well. However, there is a limitation from the point of view of space, and for this reason, not everyone can come who would like to and those we would like to have in the country. That is why representativeness is important.
However, unlike previous events, we will have not only the face-to-face modality but also the possibility of remote participation. This, even though, for reasons associated with the blockade, we do not have access in Cuba to certain communication platforms such as Zoom, which are widely used throughout the world.
So we will start from that base because it makes no sense not to take advantage of what we had done; we will update that base in terms of participation. We will organize it according to the current possibilities, but it must be a faster process.
Program topics: Economics
We intend to talk about a wide variety of topics, discuss what has been done. Because everything we’ve done in recent years has been, let’s say, at a distance. Important steps have been taken; but it is necessary to explain them well so that they are understood in all their dimension.
For example, in terms of socioeconomic participation, there are great changes in terms of the possibilities that Cubans residing abroad have to participate in projects of this nature in Cuba, in investments and in other business opportunities.
In addition, there are local development projects, which open up new opportunities and require a lower budget and have a direct impact on the standard of living of the relatives and the community of origin of those Cubans residing outside the island.
We intend to exchange on these issues, present the opportunities that exist, and listen to Cubans residing abroad in a direct, face-to-face exchange. Because we, as these changes have been implemented, have received feedback; but it is not the same as sitting down to talk and listen to opinions about it directly, in the sense of how to carry out one action or another in the most effective way possible.
This exchange should also be useful to find out what are the main obstacles they face, whether as a consequence of the blockade or associated with internal mechanisms in Cuba, which do not allow the process to flow organically.
Other topics for discussion
There are few pending issues of an immigration nature because most of them have been resolved during these 45 years. It is equally useful to be able to hear from compatriots what concerns they have; what new suggestions they can make.
In addition, the event will coincide in some way with the work on bills that must be approved in the current legislature of the National Assembly, related to migration, passports, foreigners and citizenship. The conference may be an opportune moment for Cubans residing abroad to contribute to these bills, beyond the fact that, when they are made public, they will have the opportunity to participate and give opinions electronically, as has happened before.
We are also interested in exchanging about young people of Cuban descent. What actions, what projects we can develop to bring those descendants of Cubans, who are more and more, closer to the country of their parents, of their ancestors.
There is also the cultural issue: How do we manage to maintain our idiosyncrasy, customs, common roots, even when residing abroad? What actions are required so that, in a context in which we have more Cubans abroad, in more countries, our culture and the connection of those emigrants with the island can be kept alive? How do we best use new technologies based on those links?
Ernesto Soberón Guzmán, Cuban Foreign Ministry general director of Consular Affairs and Attention to Cubans Resident Abroad, offers statements to OnCuba about the 4th The Nation and Emigration Conference. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.
Today we have an extensive consular service, with some 140 consular offices and consulates. But, at the same time, the approved immigration modifications make it less and less necessary for a Cuban citizen to go to a consulate to carry out a procedure. Unless some incident occurs, the loss of the passport or a notarial procedure is necessary, Cubans who are abroad are not obliged to contact the consulate. The consulate is the one that has to go out in search of the Cubans, it is up to them to maintain the link. And we are interested in knowing the criteria of those Cubans about how they see that interaction.
We also want to exchange on how, from the communicational point of view, we can all help each other to objectively disseminate the reality of Cuba, with our lights and our shadows.
These are the main aspects that we are interested in addressing at the Conference, based on the current scenario of the country and the modifications that the Cuban community has undergone abroad in terms of quantity, composition, and the favorable predisposition of the majority of the Cubans to maintain ties with their country of origin, beyond the differences that we may have.
The element to consider will always be respect for the sovereignty and independence of Cuba. If there is that respect, we can talk about anything. Nobody is saying that there are no differences from the point of view of politics, of ideology, with emigrant Cubans. But that is one thing, and another thing is that these differences become irreconcilable, that there be no relationship with the country of origin and that it not be possible to talk or exchange based on a better relationship.
Nor can we lose sight of the fact that Cuba is 90 miles from the United States, a country to which people from all over the world emigrate or try to emigrate and that, moreover, for political reasons, offers Cuban migrants a series of facilities that are not given to people of other nationalities.
There is a majority group of emigrants who, even when they have political differences, and think that things could be done differently, maintain respect for the sovereignty and independence of Cuba. With them, you can talk about everything, listen to their points of view, and then make the pertinent decisions. The clearest example is that we made the new Constitution available to Cubans abroad and they had the opportunity to comment on it. And 40% of what they thought, which is not a small number, was included in the final text.
We are willing to talk and explain our points of view, to reconcile the way of doing things in order to strengthen ties with Cubans abroad. But, I insist, always respecting Cuba’s sovereignty and independence. If we start from that principle, there is nothing that cannot be dealt with.
In fact, almost 20 years ago, at the last Conference, no one could have thought that a Cuban abroad could invest in Cuba. Today they can. Nobody could think that a Cuban abroad could participate in the debate on Cuban law. Today they can. Or that so many Cuban artists living abroad were protagonists of cultural events in Cuba. Or that Cuban athletes living abroad represent the country in an international championship.
In other words, there have been important changes, despite the differences; but we have managed to gradually reach consensus in order to strengthen ties with Cubans abroad. The Conference seeks to continue advancing along this path.