Cuba and its Diaspora

April 6, 2012

Cuba and its Diaspora: Attitudes and policies that must be adopted

by the Diaspora in order to reintegrate Cuba


By Carlos Saladrigas

Centro Cultural Padre Félix Varela- La Habana, Cuba

March 30, 2012

Very rarely do people choose to emigrate for simple personal reasons. Emigration happens when individuals feel that they are no longer able to remain in their country due to a hostile and exclusive political environment, or when living under a non-productive economy that fails to generate necessary job opportunities needed to support their families.  With the exception of the poorest countries with a low education level, governments and their policies are the main causes of emigration.

Obviously, it is preferable for a country not to suffer the emigration of their citizens, but if necessary, many countries have learned to incorporate emigrants into their respective countries in a positive, productive and inclusive manner. There are numerous examples of diasporas who are playing, or have played, a very constructive role in their countries, such as the Chinese, Indian, German and Mexican diasporas.

Cuba is not the only country in the Americas that has suffered a bleeding emigration. Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and most Central American countries have suffered or are suffering even greater emigration than Cuba, but the relationship and the torments of Cuba and its diaspora have spanned over two centuries

The potential contribution of a diaspora is not limited to remittances, though they are important, but it becomes more important when it’s able to return to its country of origin. This added value takes place not only economically, but politically, culturally and socially. This potential of the diaspora goes beyond economics and is marked in our history, with enormous contributions made from the diaspora, such as by Father Félix Varela and José Martí.

This approach of the diaspora to the nation is extremely difficult. In the US, due to restrictive policies, although deregulated by President Obama, but facing an uncertain future in the next electoral process. Here on the Island, the difficulties are the result of immigration policies that have not been updated, exposing the Cubans in the diaspora to the humiliation of having to ask permission to return to their own country. It is necessary to claim from both governments the normalization of these migratory policies.

Although during the course of its history, Cuba has undergone several emigration currents, the emigration during the revolutionary period has been particularly large in relation to its population. It is also very significant for the country due to its political nature and its challenging position against the revolutionary process, and for causing decades of isolation between the nation and its diaspora, and that is why we call ourselves "exiles".

This part of the diaspora, concentrated mainly in southern Florida is experiencing a major transformation, classified by the decade of the arrivals. To use the classification of Professor Damian Fernandez, we can conceptualize those who arrived during the 60’s as characterized by passion; those who came in the nineties, which now constitute the majority, as moved by affection; and the youngest in the original generation or their descendants, as motivated by reason. This classification explains very accurately the transformation of Miami from barrier, to transitional asset.

However, it would be unfair to ignore the historical exile as irrelevant or unimportant in the process of reunification and reconciliation. The historical exile includes Cubans who arrived in the United States in the 60's. Today, it is easy to see the legacy of economic and political success from the historical exile, but some forget the cost of achieving it.

Although we arrived in the U.S. at a time of enormous economic opportunity, life as an exile was a hard, sad, difficult process, laden with great sacrifices. Apart from the pain of expatriation, men and women, mostly middle-class Cubans, came to understand poverty, many for the first time. Many, like my father, at the peak of their lives, had to start over. My father washed dishes, my mother picked tomatoes, all with the singular purpose of providing me, their children, education, freedom and a future.

Those of us who were younger noticed with sadness the nobility of our parents and the total and absolute sacrifice they made ??for us. We were, in a unique way, the offering on their altars, but we could not stay on the sidelines to see them sacrifice this way, and although quite young, we started to work to help them. My generation could not afford to be "pepillo". We skipped that period. We had to evolve in haste from children into adults. Our lives, although faced with a promising future, were not easy.

The historic exile included all these older folks, like my father, who died longing to return to Cuba. They also include those Cubans who saw their youth fade in prison for their dissent of a revolutionary process that was in the process of consolidating. That historical exile has never forgotten Cuba, and has demonstrated many times their generosity with Cuba. Like all Cubans on both sides, our history is marked by a multitude of errors towards the Homeland and our brothers, but we have also demonstrated an ability to think and reassess the future.

But we must not confuse the historical exile with the hysterical exile. The historical exile is noble and generous; the hysterical exile is incoherent and irresponsible. The hysterical exile believes that it holds the absolute truth and bills itself as the "holy intransigence" as if intransigence were a virtue, and refuses to change, as if 53 years were not enough to demonstrate the need for change.

If for those of you who live in Cuba this description of the historical and hysterical exiles seems familiar, it is because Cubans here and over there are two sides of the same coin, and there are also those here who have historically invested their lives and dreams in this revolutionary process that once captured the imagination of the world and almost all Cubans. I am sure that the historical Cubans here also love Cuba wholeheartedly, and all Cubans of goodwill have the same capacity to reflect and rethink mistakes. 

But that other side of the coin also has hysterical Cubans, so we must check to see who are part of this sector.  

Hysterical Cubans include:

  • The "enlightened" in full exercise of their arrogance, they believe they possess the absolute truth, and they exist both here and there.
  • The bigots who do not allow other voices to be heard, both here and there.
  • The cannibals that voraciously eat other Cubans with personal attacks, insults and slander, and they also exist here and there.
  • Those who prefer violence to peace, and they also exist here and there.
  • The diehards who are so planted in their positions as someone standing on wet cement, but have not realized that the cement has hardened under his feet, and who will be relegated to be observers, not participants in the story.
  • Those who subtract and divide, here and there.
  • And finally, hysterics are those who in the words of Martí, destroy instead of building, and who are also here and there.

A large portion of the diaspora we call exile has concluded that it is unethical and is not sustainable to maintain policies of isolation, and economic sanctions that harm our people, much less make it through the interference of a foreign country, since the end does not justify the means. Governments change, people remain, and it is neither acceptable nor conducive to harm our people in order to achieving a change in government.

To encourage and assist our brothers in need in Cuba and we must support the development of a deep and diverse civil society, perhaps the greatest contribution the diaspora could make to Cuba's future, given that all civil societies that include a private sector in the economy, require openness, resources, contacts and cooperation. No wonder Pope Benedict VXI repeated the words of his predecessor asking Cuba to open to the world, and to the world to open to Cuba.

Cuba's problems are huge, but they are our problems, and we Cubans should and will resolve them. It will not be easy, but we have no choice. Benedict told us clearly and emphatically that there is no other path than through reconciliation, respect, inclusion, dialogue, love and peace.

During the Mass in Santiago de Cuba this past Monday, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia presented Cuba to the Pope as a poor country. Respectfully, I disagree, because I see Cuba as a country rich in human capital, both inside and out, and in the contemporary world, human capital is more important than financial resources.

However, to realize the potential of this human capital, both here and in the diaspora we need changes, big changes, that should come from all parties: the diaspora, as well as the government, and even the opposition. During his visit, His Holiness emphasized the fact that the Cuban model is outdated and worn, but the model of confrontation and isolation used by part of the diaspora is also obsolete and worn out.

The Revolution cannot be sustained by coercion, nor can it be defeated by confrontation. Benedict called on all Cubans to seek a new model for Cuba that should be inclusive, where all Cubans find their share of freedom and humanism.  Cubans are hungry for a vision of the future, and dreaming about the future may bring us together, while the past divides us.
This task is not easy, as we were reminded of this by the Pope, who warned us that the road will be set with challenges and dangers. To achieve this, he called on all Cubans, here, there, the government, to exercise respect, transparency, humility, and brotherly love, to fully exercise our God given rights, so that we can find the patience and the tenacity to persevere in transforming Cuba through dialogue and peace.

I will never forget the words of my good friend Dagoberto Valdes, who I deeply respect and admire. He said: "Carlos, change is like a puzzle with many pieces. It doesn’t matter where you start to build it, what matters is that all pieces are on the table." The diaspora is not going to be the one to complete the puzzle, which is a task for those who live here, but we are important pieces that Cuba needs. Our responsibility is to contribute our pieces to the puzzle, and we cannot wait for this puzzle to be completed, because it will never be finished without us.

We need to step forward and put our pieces on the table, without worrying how advanced this puzzle is. Our participation should be to facilitate the building of the puzzle. If today we only have 50 out of thousand pieces armed, so be it, and that means there are only 950 missing pieces to complete. Ignoring or dismissing the portion already completed, or holding pieces off the table, are not ethical or constructive choices, neither is sitting back and waiting. Let us begin to put our pieces on the table. Fortunately for us, His Holiness offered the help of the Church in this task.

My generation, which is the youngest of the exiles from the sixties, is reaching an age where we can see the end of the road. At this stage in our lives, it is time to emphasize what is important and to discard the superfluous and the irrelevant.

When the youngest of our children suffered a diabetic coma at age 13, his personality changed. Before we used to call him “fosforito”, since anything would make him explode. After this episode his character was gentle and quiet. One day his sister asked how he had changed his ways so radically, to which he replied that after being so close to death he realized that it was not worth wasting time being angry.

What a lesson we received from this 13-year-old child, what a lesson for all Cubans! It is not worth it to waste time being angry, and remain separated from our brothers…..

We have everything we need to build a future to bequeath to our children and grandchildren. Time is running out. Lets tear down the walls we have built on both sides, let us build the bridges that are needed, and give ourselves the task of building a new Cuba, a free Cuba, sovereign, inclusive, prosperous, diverse, rich, fair, equitable and generous towards the weakest sectors of our society. That is the Cuba we dream of; let's make it a reality for all Cubans.

Comments 1-5 of 5

  • ed canler

    06/28/2012 01:32 PM

    Que Dios te oiga!

  • Henry Agüeros Garces

    04/09/2012 09:46 PM

    Mr. Carlos Saladrigas....
    Respectfully....Did you ask the Castro Totalitarian stop the attacks and beating of peaceful citizens??
    Have you asked the 53 year old Dictatorship... to allow Cubans to travel ...not only abroad...but inside their own Island?
    And....last but not least....Did you ask the Castro Dictatorship to show a sign of peace to its allowing FREE ELECTION??

  • Rosa de la Cruz

    04/09/2012 12:51 AM

    In the specifications for the installation of his paper stacks and candy works, my friend, the late Cuban conceptual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, used the terms "ideal height" or "ideal weight". The owner or borrower of the works can choose to install them at a height or weight different from the artist's "ideal". And because the public is allowed to interact by taking samples of the works during the course of the exhibition, the pieces remain in a constant state of flux or change. Through his idealistic principles, Felix Gonzalez-Torres was determined to "make this a better place for everyone".

    Reading your paper for the Centro Cultural Padre Felix Varela, La Habana, Cuba, I was surprised that you chose the title Cuba and its Diaspora: Attitudes and policies that must be adopted by the Diaspora in order to reintegrate Cuba. You leave no room for individual thinking and close the door on those whose experiences and suggestions are different from yours. Your inclusions, exclusions and your authoritarian pen express a false reality that creates a shadow, which Plato used to describe as a shadow of the ideal.

    We consider ourselves exiles and not part of a diaspora. Our parents left Cuba because they did not agree nor accept the philosophy of communism and the revolution. Their decission was individual, not grouped motivated nor mandated by the government. Our parents did not want to live nor have their children grow under a communist regime. We must remember that the Berlin Wall closed in August of 1961.

    Like a scientist or anthropologist, you are dissecting the Cuban community by dividing them into the historical and the hysterical. Your description of the hysterical whether inside or outside Cuba is not acceptable. In fact, by calling a group of people arrogant, bigots, cannibals and violent, you are not building bridges nor reintegrating Cuba. On the contrary, your insulting words only force people into more extreme positions. Is that your real intention?

    A great statesman manages to represent his people with respect and infuse them with pride. Like Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "ideals", statesmen give room to individual realities and acknowledge differences.

    Yoani Sanchez believes that "time is running out" for the authoritarian government, not for the people of Cuba. More and more technology is reaching out. Tweeting, blogs and mobile phones are the tools and weapons of the new generation. They will break all barriers and bring democracy to Cuba. A free Cuba belongs to all.

    Rosa de la Cruz

  • nelly soy-yo

    04/06/2012 06:31 PM

    Carlos. I only hope that those is power listen to your words of wisdom. Cuba is our land, and the only place on earth that truly belong to us, once we understand that, we understand that the only wrong doing has been not being able to talk to each other as brothers. Let us become one once and for all. Working together we will achieve success. Our revolutionary government has nothing to fear, we are here to help a better cuban society not to fight the revolution nor to be againts its laws. Giving will always be better than taking, we can give, let's build a new Cuba together!

  • Antonio Martinez

    04/06/2012 02:16 PM

    Outstanding remarks Carlos! May peace, reason, reconciliation and love prevail...

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