Political subjectivity in the Cuban migratory issue

The option of emigrating as a counterrevolutionary act was a way of confronting U.S. policy aimed at promoting emigration in Cuba. Although the phenomenon has not ceased to have political repercussions related to the confrontation with the United States and its impact on national life, the consequences of such a complex phenomenon have transcended its original dissuasive intentions to become part of a political culture that complicates the way to deal with it today.

Cuban emigration has objective causes that are related to the country’s economic difficulties, largely caused by the US blockade; political and social tensions not unrelated to this situation; as well as the asymmetry in the standard of living in Cuba with respect to the countries of destination, especially the United States, which has also exceptionally facilitated this process.

It is also the result of a particular systemic contradiction in Cuba that generates frustration for a fairly large sector of the population, especially young people: thanks to the country’s educational system, it produces a human capital that the national labor market is not capable of fully absorbing that satisfies their life expectations. This, in turn, determines the high comparative quality of its migrants and, consequently, a high degree of acceptance in most countries, which stimulates the motivation to emigrate and facilitates its realization.

Research related to the impact of migration in Cuba indicates that it is an endogenous and endemic phenomenon of Cuban society, with high indicators in the foreseeable future and negative effects on the Cuban economy, politics and demography. Apparently, the only palliative available to mitigate these effects lies in promoting legal, orderly and safe emigration, which reduces the trauma of the migratory adventure and its collateral effects on relations with the country, as well as establishing policies that encourage greater integration of emigrants into national life with a view to favoring their participation and commitment to the future of the nation.

There is considerable consensus regarding the convenience of this strategy and this is expressed in the governing documents approved in recent years, including the 2019 Constitution. It is even endorsed by the government’s own discourse at its highest levels. However, the migratory issue and relations with emigrants continue to be conditioned by the prejudices inherited from the aforementioned original political subjectivity and this makes it difficult to implement the reforms that the treatment of this matter requires.

In 1978, Fidel Castro tried to overcome this limitation and took advantage of the first respite that US policy gave Cuba, during the government of Jimmy Carter, to propose a new strategy towards emigration. “(There were) hundreds of thousands of people in the Cuban community who never participated in counterrevolutionary activities, and who never carried out hostile acts against Cuba. However, we tended to look at them as a whole,” he declared to a group of American and Cuban journalists, before the call for the “dialogue with representative figures of the Cuban community abroad” held that year, which marked a decisive transformation in the existing policy.

Despite the great existing social differences and the reasons that have led them to emigrate, the majority of emigrants have also tended to perceive themselves “as a whole” and to relate this decision to a position of rejection of the Cuban political system, although many times this attitude is not justified by the history of their relations with the system and the benefits obtained from it. Fidel Castro also referred to this: “all the policies that we followed until now – and that there was no other in those conditions – contributed (…) to give a base to the terrorist groups, to give a base to the counterrevolutionary groups, to do imperialism a favor, since those people saw themselves in those conditions, without us doing anything constructive or revolutionary in the new conditions.”

The scenario was defined by the extremes, on one side a counterrevolutionary minority claimed the representation of all emigration, and on the other prevailed the most intransigent positions regarding the migration issue in Cuba. I return to Fidel to signify the validity of a debate that has lasted for more than forty years: “the Yankees are the ones who are most concerned (with the policy of rapprochement with emigration); and secondly, the extremists over there. I am not going to say the extremists here, so as not to confuse those confused with the extremists,” he said at a meeting called to explain the new political path, before an audience of officials and political cadres, who in many cases were opposed to it. He also explained the nature of the phenomenon and its strategic sense:

“(The) bond of that community, of the great mass of that community with the country, is a bond of a national nature. And I would say that we would begin to use that national spirit, in this case, with a positive sense and a revolutionary sense, and that we, one day, Cuba, the country, will have the support – listen closely! – of a large part of that emigration. Or else we are not what we are, our country is not what it is, and our Revolution is not worth what it is worth.”

Other variables have influenced this subjective future on the part of the emigrants. The counterrevolutionary function assigned by the United States to Cuban emigration has been the source of extraordinary benefits and this requires a confrontational attitude towards the Cuban revolutionary process. Beyond class contradictions, differences motivated by the affectation of personal interests and ideological rejections, consubstantial to any revolutionary process, the supposed counterrevolutionary monolithism of the so-called “historical exiles,” as are known the first emigrants from 1959, extended to a lesser extent to the rest of those who have emigrated later and to a large extent to their descendants, has been cemented in this convenient role-benefit relationship with the US government.

The predominant political attitude among the emigrants is related to another historical singularity of Cuba: the country of destination par excellence for Cuban migration is precisely the main enemy of the Revolution and the historical adversary of the independence ideals of the nation. “Moving to the enemy’s territory,” for whatever reason, requires a psychological rationalization to justify it, and a very convenient one has been the myth of “escaping Castro’s hell.” Although the sickly metamorphosis of renegade communists has already been written about in many places and times, one of the most striking phenomena of the Cuban migratory process has been the sudden evolution to the right that can be seen in some people, especially in those who aspire to “exculpate their revolutionary sins” and be accepted by Miami’s political class.

These conditioning factors have weighed on the political attitudes of the majority of Cuban emigrants towards North American society itself and determined a conservative ideological inclination, which singles out the Cuban-American community within the Latino groups in that country and makes its relationship with Cuba difficult.

But another angle of this reality is that, in the worst conditions, even at the risk of their lives, there have been groups that have defended the country against the aggressions of the United States, as well as people on the left who, apart from possible differences with the Cuban government, has not bowed to the designs of US policy either, and this facilitates dialogue with them. There are sectors of the Cuban-American community that show a very active presence within the North American progressive movements and émigrés in all parts of the world that are part of the solidarity groups with Cuba. More importantly, apart from their ideological leanings, the research related to this matter shows that the majority of the emigration is interested in a normal relationship with their homeland and this is the best antidote to the climate of hostility in which they sustain positions of the Cuban-American extreme right against Cuba.

Just as many have supported very aggressive United States policies, when this has been the official position of the US government, most have also supported moments of improvement in relations, as occurred during the Obama administration, which indicates the weight that American policy may have in one case or another. However, another proven truth is that, sometimes against the grain of US policy, émigrés have responded positively to Cuban initiatives aimed at facilitating their relations with the country and that constitutes an indicator of the influence that Cuban policy can also have in their behavior.

It has been precisely the negative political subjectivity existing in certain strata of the government and some sectors of Cuban society regarding the issue of emigration and relations with emigrants, which has prevented this capacity for influence from being deployed to its full potential. Measures such as the effective promotion of investments by emigrants in Cuba; the promotion of attractive packages for your trips to the country; the reduction of the costs of the documents and procedures required by their national link, as well as other impediments that make this relationship difficult; the breadth of cultural, academic, educational and scientific exchanges; access to public health and the actual updating of Cuban migratory law to better define the duties and rights of a citizen within the constitutional framework — proposals long accepted but which sleep the slumber of indecision.

Prejudices regarding emigration also limit the objective and balanced treatment of the phenomenon by the Cuban public media. Although it is fair to recognize that the rigidity of this practice has decreased in recent years, it continues to be a preponderant approach that while the most pernicious aspects of the lives of emigrants are highlighted, there are very few moments that highlight their successes and virtues. It is true that something more crooked, sometimes even sinister, occurs on the other side of the equation, but it is not good policy to imitate the dogmatism and foolishness of the other side.

There are still people in Cuba who have renounced opportunities abroad in order to be loyal to the revolutionary social project and consider emigrants as opportunists who do not deserve to be received with open doors in the country. A lot of personal sacrifice justifies the respect that these positions deserve and they will have to be taken into account when establishing policies that contradict them; but it is no longer a question of what the majority of the population thinks, as when Fidel Castro had to face the rejection of their opening proposals.

Emigration has grown exponentially since that date and there are practically no families in Cuba that have not been affected by this phenomenon, for which stopping changes aimed at increasing rapprochement with emigration and facilitating their relations with Cuban society constitutes an unpopular inertia. It affects government management in many ways, including national security, to the extent that it limits the ability to neutralize the most hostile positions against the country.

Again, we are in the presence of the need to transform “mentalities” and to “change what must be changed.” The mystery lies in identifying the brains inhabited by these mentalities, which act as an anchor for the nation, embedded at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.


La subjetividad política en el tema migratorio cubano