The Cuban government’s call for a conference in Havana to dialogue with emigrants started with a bad name. Cuban emigration is not a separate entity from the nation. Emigrants are, from their citizen link with the republic where they were born and the passport required to return to their homeland, an inseparable part of the nation. The central question is not how emigration is related to a foreign nation, but to repair injustice, of which the Cuban government is a party; by which they have been deprived of rights that are their own by virtue of the principle of citizen equality. The yardstick to measure the Cuban political system’s relations with the emigrants, in fact, with all its citizens, is the model of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That of “Nation and Emigration” enters without a doubt into the mantra “We are Continuity.” It is “continuing” to stubbornly charge against a policy that must be changed: that of conceiving the emigrant, not based on citizen equality, but as an aggregate outside the nation, with an ambivalent connection. The government, which is dialoguing with the emigrants, grants them, as gifts, rights that assist every Cuban citizen, wherever they live, and that can only be legally repealed under duly proclaimed emergency situations. If there is a limited freedom or right, the government must legally argue what is the danger to the nation that is being stopped. For any other problems, including unfulfilled contracts, stolen funds, legal violations, or collaboration with anti-patriotic policies, the government must seek other solutions, with the opportunity to submit its decision to a due process of review.
This difference with reality is based on the fact that the communist party repeals the representation of the entire nation. Party comes from side. The government represents, in the best of cases, a majority of the people on the island, based on an increasingly plural society, with ever closer ties to immigrants in their daily lives. That majority of the people can temporarily delegate their representation to the government. However, in a republic, the legitimate authority of the majority is limited. It is not enough to place the diaspora outside the nation. These are citizens defined as such at birth on the island, by the jus soli criterion. The majority vote does not grant the authority to block a citizen from entering his country of origin, an inalienable right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There is no party sovereignty or principle of self-determination. That right corresponds to the nation, to the Cuban people made up of its citizens, wherever they live, no matter what political idea they profess. The invocation of sovereignty acquires its full dimension only by integrating the concepts of citizenship and republic. State sovereignty in 2020 acquires its true dimension insofar as it is aligned with the moral purpose of managing public conflicts of interests and values between Cuban patriots, from “respect for the full dignity of men” and women (it would be necessary to complement Martí’s phrase).
Journey to the roots
Patriotism, as a positive version of nationalism, is enriched by adding Cubans. It is not just about adding numbers, nor seeking rejuvenation in patriotic emigration, but opening institutional avenues for the country to grow based on its social, cultural, economic, political and ideological diversity.
The formula “With all and for the good of all” for the relationship between the government and the emigrants is not a suicide pact. No one expects patriotism to fade or take national symbols or national security lightly. But “with all and for the good of all” essentially means what José Martí enunciated with two conditions that far from colliding complement each other.
First, an independent country. There should never again exist a Platt Amendment in relations between Cuba and the United States. It is comforting that there is no American diplomat who can say about the Cuban president what the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, said to President Trump from Kiev: “President Zelenski wants to kiss your ass.” Since 1959 it has not occurred to anyone to think that of the three Cuban presidents. Emigrants who plead for a return to those times, cannot expect affection or understanding from their fellow citizens.
At the same time, a sovereign government is not enough. José Martí and Máximo Gómez advocated for a worthy and merciful republic in victory, even towards their opponents, not a military camp. The government has the mission of reconciling the natural elements of the country, without being run over by the dissenting patriot. The country they dreamed of and the movement led by our heroes was the most alien to hatred. To all hatreds, those of race, those of class, those of ideology.
One must speak of hatred. Nothing is gained by not recognizing it. Despite the contacts opened by Cuba’s openings in the migratory field and the honeymoon that the Obama administration brought to family trips, it is evident that politically there is still a civil conflict, charged with emotions between different parts of the Cuban nation. That conflict has different spaces and narratives on the banks of the Straits of Florida. In both there is a great deal of Cubans who are emotionally bothered by peace, at least the one that is possible, without total victories, beyond ideologies. Many admit it, but they always blame those on the other side. This escalation of reproaches does not listen to the reasons of the others.
The vertical Government-emigration relationship is an exhausted paradigm
We must change paradigm. No conflict lasts sixty years with all reason on one side. Hate dreams of a settling of scores, rather than positive construction. It is not useful to anyone, nor to those who hate. But those emotions must be paid attention to. No trauma justifies that Cubans continue to support a policy as immoral, illegal and counterproductive as the blockade. The main problems among Cubans would benefit from a constructive and respectful policy by Washington towards Cuba.
Asking that, under the government of Donald Trump and his political complicity with Marco Rubio and the Diaz-Balarts, what is correct is done today, is to ask for the impossible.
In politics, virtue is not in proclaiming what is right but in making it viable. It is not just a matter of calling up ranks and preaching to those already convinced that the blockade is illegal and immoral, but of persuading for a coalition of all opponents of the blockade. All of them indicate grouping without discrimination, without divisive anti-communism, but also reconciling with those who, opposed to the current system, understand that their inalienable condition as Cubans would be extolled with the possibilities open in a Cuba without blockade.
To dismantle hatreds is to reconcile. Emigration was a way out for Cubans who submitted to Platt options, and also, in the conditions of post-1959 Cuba, of men and women, worthy and hard-working, pressed by the abuses and exclusions generated within the revolutionary process. It is not a question of weaknesses, as some unofficial spokespersons continue to say. Identities were trampled, of Cuban men and women with entrepreneurial initiative, artistic talent, work spirit, and prominent scholars in their careers, who have demonstrated this in the United States, Spain, Canada, Mexico, and other places. Let’s add that for decades being religious or homosexual and living in Cuba represented a life of humiliation.
In the same way that visions that recognize the merits of the government, and its exercise of Cuban sovereignty, are imposed on emigration, it is urgent that it be understood from the Palace of the Revolution that there is a need to take steps of national reconciliation, in which abuses and remedies are recognized. It is obvious that both sides are to blame, that revolutions are not walks along the banks of the Almendares River, and that Cuba has been a besieged country. But it is also obvious, even acknowledged by Fidel Castro himself, that there are abuses that have their own origins. The government, being the depositary of sovereign status, has a responsibility to the history of Cuba to redress injustices that no exiled group has.
To consider again a conference in the style of the previous ones, from 1994 to date, is to appeal to an exhausted format. The party-state, from its alleged condition of vanguard, calls, sets the agenda, defines priorities, and encourages emigrants to close ranks with the country as it is. At the end, some specific openings are announced within the same scheme, sometimes a money that emigrants will save by reducing the abusive charges they are victims of for multiple procedures, such as the extension every two years of the most expensive passport in the world that barely lasts six. These issues are discussed with those on the inside who, represented by the party-state, claim to be the nation of which they are only a part, to dialogue with those on the outside, who are neither an organized representation of all those who have operated since the patriotic rejection of any undue interference in national affairs.
In this vertical relationship, the divide between the emigrant and the status of the citizen resident on the island persists. It’s not that there can be no progress. It has happened due to the convergence of goodwill since the 2013 reform. The issue is that time is a political variant. The conciliators and dialoguers have to run faster than those who spread hatred.
It’s time to get out of trenches that cloud common sense. How are economic opportunities for emigrants to be discussed without a substantive dialogue with the actors who daily live in Cuba? Isn’t it incoherent to appeal to the patriotism and critical exercise of emigrated citizens so that they defend a respectful relationship of their country of residence with their country of origin, while fostering an unspoken and suspicious attitude from the ideological department of the PCC without distinguishing apostasy from loyal opposition to the country? Is the economic criterion that squeezes the emigrant with abusive passport fees a good representation of the people on the island? Who is going to take responsibility for this obstacle to a more active relationship between emigrants and their homeland? Who are those who defend those policies speaking for? Has anyone from the PCC explained to the public why it is preferable or patriotic to follow this scheme, rather than opening more spaces for their investment and that of their relatives on the island?
Towards a new paradigm
In Cuba, the presence is evident of officials who do not conceive of any other way out of their differences with the majority of the emigrants and many of their disgruntled compatriots on the island, than that in which the former, to participate in the changes, accept the doctrine of the irrevocable socialism and that the latter find a way to leave. In Miami, there are groups for which no change in Cuba will be significant if it does not include treating the revolution―as Senator Marco Rubio says―as “an accident of history” that should be erased.
For them nothing should be preserved―no matter that internationally many recognize it ―neither literacy, nor public security, nor the health system, nor sovereignty. They have no rules of the game to respect, not even those standardized by international law. These groups have fueled a polarization in which, instead of discussing rights in Cuba balanced with appropriate regulations for the defense of the country against regime change policies from outside, they demand an unconditional stand from their side, and the desire for a maximalist victory.
In those antipodes, they don’t try to build a shared homeland in which “all for the good of all” fit. On the contrary, they speak of a Cuba or an emigration, in which those who differ from their central positions have no place. Either they leave, or they are annihilated, or “why don’t you return to Cuba if you don’t like Trump?” In the best of cases, the dissenters would forever have a second-rate position in atonement for real or imagined sins. Do business, but without politics.
To get out of that, and put those radical sectors at a disadvantage, something more drastic and dramatic is needed than document price reductions and the ratification that there are emigrants in the fight against the blockade. It is urgent to use the new constitution as a reform body, and start by declaring that Cubans inside and outside enjoy citizen equality, and that therefore they will pay the same fees for the same documents, and vote to elect and be elected with the minimum condition of being registered in an electoral register according to international standards. No two years and you lose your residence or if you left before 2013 you need a procedure, God knows for what, to return to your country. Citizen equality therefore means citizen equality, a constitutional principle.
The dialoguing emigrants―What great merit in the face of intransigence!―must be a voice and not an echo. It is necessary to demand the total and unconditional end of the U.S. blockade against Cuba. It is also necessary to air legitimate demands on Cuba’s internal political organization according to international human rights standards. Proclaiming the expectation that to the extent that the exceptional conditions that the country is experiencing disappear; because of the siege imposed by the United States with its regime change policy, not only will relations with this great power normalize, but also the exercise of human rights in Cuba.
Normalizing is not a term to twist with ideologies. Between Cuba and the U.S., normal is a relationship based on international law. Between the Cuban government and its citizens, normal is a relationship based on the paradigm of the Universal Declaration, a republican, liberal-democratic and general welfare state.
Based on the diagnosis presented, it will not be surprising that my prognosis on the announced conference, whenever the world health crisis allows its holding, is quite modest. The reversal of Obama’s openings by the Trump administration closes political spaces for the type of discussion necessary. In the midst of the looming economic crisis, of unpredictable depth and duration, one wonders if it is optimal to hold a Conference now, or to make the fundamental changes that the government was already going to make, postponing the drama of a conference for the time when a new paradigm can be proclaimed.
The Trump administration has shown no sign of wanting to play constructively. The Cuban government has not given signs of wanting to transcend the “Nation and Emigration” model. In exile, the far-right pack is sharpening its fangs against dialoguers, intoxicated with social networks from various platforms full of trolls, rudeness, confirmed biases, lowliness and pack thought. In Cuba, significant unease is palpable at the delay in the calendar of reforms as promised and agreed as they are lengthy. Meanwhile, in an environment of halfway change, corruption, undeserved privileges, and laziness spread.
Does this mean that the conference does not merit participation? In politics, it is always about choosing among the available options. Despite all its limitations, those who participate in the conference can make a greater difference in the relations of immigrants and Cuban society than all the intransigent actors together. The latter mark rhetorical and ideological points from the vain virality of social networks. With all its shortcomings and limitations, one can always expect something from dialogues. In contrast, the inquisitors, converts, and Savonarolas, pontificating the indoctrinated choir, produce nothing. They are all complaints without any announcement, thinking they are vestal virgins.
Are there any proposals that deserve to be assessed on the eve of the conference? Of curse. On the social level, the Cuban government must think about the end of the abuses associated with the use of the passport. Economically, it is important to give emigrants the option of investing as Cubans but also as companies from their adopted country. The emigrants’ skepticism and suspicion are logical in the face of the history of inconsistencies, predatory fiscal policy and abuses by the Cuban government against its businesspeople. Like good communists, if there is a crisis the state-party, before reforming its structures and cutting expenses, has preferred to break contracts and even appropriate private funds and companies. If the government lets emigrants choose to invest with the nationality of their choice, it may ease the fears that their past behavior generates.
Emigrants also have love for their small country, their land, their town and their province. Why not decentralize decisions on the authorization of local joint ventures between emigrated entrepreneurs and the government, the local private sector, or foreign capital willing to invest with Cuban emigrants or not, with the capacity to collect and invest funds at the province level? In several countries, particularly in Europe, there are funds in which emigrants receive support from their adoptive countries to invest in their countries of origin. Why not start with them and put those incentives as an example for those whom the U.S. blockade forbids them to do so?
Agriculture is an area where facilities for importing modern technology can make a big difference in the use of barren land. After 1898, the secretary of agriculture of the intervening government, Perfecto Lacoste, a friend of Antonio Maceo, allowed the tax-free import of, fences and farm implements. Overcoming the distances, Cuban emigrants who returned to Cuba after the defeat of Spain benefited from this measure. Could that experience be imitated?
Rather than presenting concrete proposals, it would be more feasible to produce if the Cuban government invites economists, political scientists, sociologists and scientists from various fields to specific workshops, together with counterparts from the island; it is important to rethink from different points of view sincere, fraternal and conciliation dialogue formats. If that does not happen, it will be necessary to go to the conferences that are called, to get what you can, and put to test the limits of the adopted model of dialogue. At least the dialoguers have brought positive results to relations between Cubans, unlike extremists, without ever causing harm.