Cuba: Migrants, Crises and Transnationalism
December 29, 2015
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — As the days pass, the thousands of Cubans stranded in
Costa Rica as refugees and the hundreds who have gathered, destitute, in
small impoverished towns along Panama's pacific coast cease to make
headlines in Cuba.
The island's official press mentions the situation only in passing, as a
distant phenomenon, as, and I quote Cubadebate, "a complex migratory
situation that has arisen in that country [Costa Rica], brought about by
how alluring the riches of the north prove for the poor of the south and
by the specific provisions that benefit Cuban migrants in the United Sates."
In the meantime, the international press seems to have grown tired of
what was once the attractive media spectacle of Cubans being clubbed by
the Nicaraguan police. What we are seeing today is a closed playing
field, in which each of the countries involved has taken a stance that
neutralizes the potential decisions others could make and forces Costa
Rica to digest a situation which stands as the most disastrous migratory
crisis of its history.
The complexity of the issue, however, isn't to be found in its
humanitarian dimension. Ultimately, I am certain that Cubans will find a
way to reach the United States or settle somewhere in Central America
where they can start a new life. It's possible, and desirable, that they
will come to the end of the journey before the year ends. They are
certainly entitled to it.
[Editors's Note: we also suggest "Possible Solution to Allow the 8,000
Cubans in Costa Rica to Reach the USA", published after this article by
The complexity of the situation stems from the fact the issue isn't
being debated and, consequently, that it is left in the hands of the
government, which interprets and describes the matter as a "complex
migratory situation," when, in fact, what we are dealing with is a
structural crisis facing Cuban society and with morbid situations that
waste away this society and make it unviable as a nation.
It's true that no objective balance of Cuba's migratory situation can
place this situation outside the context of US-Cuba bilateral conflicts,
or neglect the responsibility of the US government in this situation.
But to leave matters there not only involves a politically skewed
analysis but also a gesture of intellectual dishonesty.
The Cuban state has used its migrants as an instrument of political
blackmail – at times restricting migration, at times authorizing it and
at times instigating it through mass exodus like the ones witnessed in
1980 and 1994. For all such ends, it has never been hesitant to stage
farcical encounters, such as the nation's meetings with representatives
of the émigré community, to sink tow-boats full of helpless individuals
(including children) or to charge the steepest consular fees in the world.
What took place on the Costa Rica – Nicaragua border is another example
of how this government uses its migrants: the Cuban government has
instigated a migratory crisis, coordinated with an allied government
(Nicaragua) and has consented to having its citizens mistreated in
unjustified acts of violence. Then, it has turned its back on the
situation in all senses, bombastically proclaiming that it would be
willing to allow those migrants who have a legal migratory status and
wish to return to the island to come back to Cuba. That is to say, no one.
On the other hand, Cuban emigration cannot be explained solely on the
basis of legal provisions such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, as no
opportunity, no matter how attractive, explains the frankly suicidal
nature of the itineraries in question, where more than one migrant has
lost their life. It is also untrue that the only reason to emigrate is
of an economic nature – no migratory phenomenon operates that way – and,
in Cuba, the economy and politics merge into one another in an
excessively affectionate embrace.
People in Cuba emigrate because they have no prospects in a country with
a devastated economy, an authoritarian system of government and highly
limited options in terms of personal realization. Cubans not only live
poorly, they can't complain about it and are unable to picture a
brighter future. They are also terribly bored.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the current situation is the scant
attention devoted the matter by those who – as academics or political
activists – should have learned the significance of the increasingly
evident transnational nature of our society. Next to no one has said
anything on the matter.
A case in point is the tardy and inadequate analysis carried out by the
critical intellectuals who are part of the Cuba Posible ("Possible
Cuba," CP) project. In this connection, CP issued one of its familiar
dossiers (http://cubaposible.net/topicos-cubanos), with a suggestive
introduction which read as follows: "We must urgently find an answer to
the dramatic crisis these people and their relatives are facing. In
addition, Cuba and the United States must urgently implement
multifaceted (and short-term) measures and design a (long-term) strategy
to lay the foundations of a new situation that will make scenarios such
as this one impossible." The dossier sought the opinion of several
individuals. I will refer to those of three renowned intellectuals:
Lenier Gonzalez, Roberto Veiga and Pavel Vidal.
With the exception of Lenier Gonazalez, CP vice-chair, who described the
crisis as a structural problem (with questionable arguments, perhaps,
but also with a laudable multifaceted approach that did not neglect the
issue of democracy), the rest of the people approached offered a frankly
precarious and unilateral analysis.
Economist Pavel Vidal, for instance, attributed emigration to the
economic crisis and suggested the solution was to be found in the
broadening of the private sector in Cuba. This way, he neglected the
fact that the bourgeoning of Cuban emigration to its current,
unsustainable levels has been co-extensive with the expansion of the
private sector. This is so, quite simply, because the expansion of the
private sector does not take place as a liberalizing addition to the
nation's economy but as a restructuring process that leaves people out,
precisely the losers who economists, dazzled by the market, consider
morally acceptable collateral damage.
Lastly, this neglects the fact that Cubans were emigrating long before
the crisis existed and even at times of economic growth and rising
consumption, as the Mariel exodus illustrated. To place migration and
the economy in a strictly linear relationship is a regrettable
vulgarization of the situation.
The most curious line of argument, however was probably that followed by
CP chair Roberto Veiga, who feels the problem would go away with the
elimination of the blockade/embargo and the establishment of a "quick
lane" that would grant Cuba's Council of Ministers discretional powers,
to make decisions without the consent of "parliament."
Veiga writes as though Cuba was not already a country governed through
decrees and as though that form of authoritarianism wasn't one of the
reasons behind the domestic crisis which hurls Cubans across the planet,
as though it were perfectly reasonable that an institution that speaks
of building a better Cuba should suggest giving an authoritarian
government greater authority.
When I see such texts, I grow increasingly convinced of the acquiescence
of the island's intellectuals (no matter how talented) in the face of
issues which, like this one, force us to direct our criticisms inward.
And it is doubly regrettable, because this debate involves that other
part of Cuban society that does not reside on the island and which CP
does not call upon. Suffice it to recall the volume published by FIU
University three years ago.
The one positive aspect of this regrettable crisis is that it forces us
to regard Cuban society from a transnational perspective, that is to
say, as a society that transcends the island's boundaries and is
developing intense economic, cultural and political ties in different
corners of the planet. If we refuse to regard Cuba this way, we will
fail to understand what is taking place and what will take place in a
future replete with challenges. One of these challenges is how to take
full advantage of the transnational nature of a country that ought to
belong to everyone.
Source: Cuba: Migrants, Crises and Transnationalism - Havana Times.org -