Has Immigration Reform Changed?

February 19, 2013 | Print Print |

From its announcement to its implementation

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES — When I heard that passports were going to be given to some opposition figures who had described the island as a prison, and later when a friend told me how easy it was for doctors to get permission to travel, I went back to my computer to read what I had been written on the subject since the Cuban president announced immigration reform.

I wanted to contrast what he said with what was going on and see how far off I had been.

I’ve always said that improvements were being hatched (reductions in costs and paperwork, the extension of allowed work contact periods, etc.) for Cubans on both sides, which was something good.

But this didn’t mean substantial progress in the establishment of the rule of law, because there was no recognition of the right to travel, only a greater permissiveness. According to the reform, a passport is not an obligation of the state to the citizen, but a privilege that’s granted – one that can ultimately be revoked. This is still true.

Likewise, it always seemed monstrous that nothing was said about the right of Cuban emigrants to return to their home country with full citizenship rights. Nor was there talk about the need to promote a constitutional reform that recognizes dual citizenship for what’s effectively a transnational society. I think this is the case.

Later I said that no immigration reform would be complete without addressing the situation of internal migrants who are subjected to a system of sub-citizenship. There’s nothing more true.

I also wrote that what was discussed was fundamentally an internal conflict within the elite, with the rentier bureaucratic faction on one side and the technocrats and the military on the other. This conflict was over how to take better economic advantage of emigration, on the one hand; and how to restore the areas of internal consensus, on the other.

Let’s not forget that most of the architects of the transitions are not gods of love consecrated to democracy but figures of the old regime, committed to the past through and through, and convinced that something had to be changed so that everything would stay the same…

I continue to maintain this, only that I couldn’t suspect how important this whole matter was. Nor did I imagine how altering of its variables could affect their own decisions.

Let me explain:

There are perceptible distances between the strident tone of the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement of the “updating of immigration policy” in August 2011, the language of the legislation in October 2012, and what was subsequently explained to the public when the new measures were implemented last month.

In August 2011, the general/president stressed that this involved a “relaxation of Cuban immigration policy [that would] take into account the right of the revolutionary state to defend itself against the interventionist and subversive plans of the US government and its allies.”

He stressed that this “would include measures to preserve human capital created by the revolution [the government] against the brain drain practiced by powerful nations.”

He emphasized that the entire “revolutionary” immigration policy had been one of openness and emigrant friendly. If that was open and amiable, there was reason to completely doubt the loving intentions of Cuba’s leaders.

Later, the tone of the regulations published in October 2012 became — with respect to Cubans on the island — more moderate than the initial line, but new restrictive features were presented that were repeated in two articles (23 and 25), marking the limits of permissiveness.

The first article concerns the limitations on obtaining a passport, while the second relates to limitations on leaving the country (as if it was necessary to reinforce the idea that there are two independent filters where the intention of traveling could be suffocated: one in the office for requesting a passport and the other at the airport itself – and for the same reasons).

Photo: granma.cubaweb.cu

Some of the sections of the two articles would be reasonable if they were restrictions in the face of a liberty (which isn’t the case), but three of them are crippling: Section D, which argues “defense and security reasons”; Section F, which speaks of “measures aimed at preserving the skilled workforce”; and Section H, which mentions ineligibility due to some amorphous and zigzagging “public interest.”

Obviously this article wasn’t designed for the few thousand people called “regulated” (a name that reminds me of “augmented ground beef”) who will not be allowed to travel.

The Cuban state, like any other government, can resolve exceptionalities through contractual administrative agreements, without recourse to the law. Maintaining these restrictive and diffuse articles is evidently an effective padlock against some opponents and (what’s even more important) a warning against any “misuse” that can take place in the future, which is nothing other than permission.

Preventing individual access to other sources of income enhances the innate tendency of people to disobedience. This is, let’s say, no more than a preemptive admonition to the defiant.

But then came the application of the law and the announcements by Cuban officials indicating that doctors would be able to travel, “deserters” could return to the island, some notorious opponents could organize their political tours, while the eternal cheerleaders argued that the law deserved applause and cheers despite its “imperfections.”

I don’t think there’s only one reason to explain this development. Like any system, this one has to take better care of its political appearances and achieve domestic support. It’s always better to have people thinking about how to travel and make money than how to subvert the government.

But I think there’s a crucial reason: the deteriorating economy, the evaporation of the oil in the Gulf and the inevitable reduction of the Venezuelan cash flow with the likely death of Hugo Chavez.

There are perceptible distances between the strident tone of the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement of the “updating of immigration policy” in August 2011, the language of the legislation in October 2012, and what was subsequently explained to the public when the new measures were implemented last month.

Necessity, more than virtue, is pushing Cuban policy toward greater economic openness at the hand of its technocratic/military sector. This requires a better international situation and a more fluid relationship with the émigré community.

Some aspects of the “updating of immigration policy” are likely designed to encourage scrutiny of the Helms Burton Act and eventually the relaxation or elimination of the blockade/embargo.

I repeat, access to the US market is vital for an economy that is planning marinas, cruise terminals, free trade zones and golf course just 100 miles south of the booming American coast. I don’t think these facilities are designed for Norwegian visitors or the Mexican market.

The “updating of immigration policy” isn’t a political opening towards the rule of law, which isn’t explicit agenda of anyone in the Cuban elite.

But undoubtedly this will generate new areas of social autonomy. With all its horn blowing, reform is making Cuban society less subjugated, especially its most dynamic part: the emerging middle class that can best take advantage of this opportunity.

Whether the autonomy generated by permissiveness turns into freedom is another story, it’s a question that depends on the action of all actors, including the opposition (internal and émigré), from all political angles.

It will also depend on actors within the Cuban state. Finally, let’s not forget that most of the architects of the transitions are not gods of love consecrated to democracy but figures of the old regime, committed to the past through and through, and convinced that something had to be changed so that everything would stay the same – or at least to conserve their proprietorship.

 


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Cuba-watchers must keep in mind that the impetus behind immigration reform was and remains the need to attract hard currency to the failed socialist Castro economy. If more Cubans are permitted to travel abroad and stay longer once they leave, when they return to visit or to remain, they will return with more foreign capital. Even while they are out of the country, they will send remittances to family and friends who have remained in Cuba. A necessary evil to these reforms is the new opportunity to travel extended to the dissident community. It remains to be seen if this opportunity will fully include the unmolested freedom to return to Cuba after time spent abroad speaking out against the regime. Like everything else, the Castros have implemented in order to maintain their control over the Cuban people, in the end these reforms will manifest themselves as one step forward and two steps back for Cuban society. The growing middle class who can afford and benefit from foreign travel is by and large white Cubans. Black Cubans will find themselves farther and farther behind economically. This division only serves to fan the flames of racism ever present in Cuba. As racial tensions grow, the Castros will be forced to use the police state to suppress more crime and more social unrest. Historically, no matter how bad things were for Cubans, it was more or less assumed that everyone, white or black, was suffering equally. As divisions grow along racial lines, the suffering will lessen for one group and increase for another. This scenario, historically, never ends well.

    • ac

      Agreed, but you forgot that at the same time they got rid from a thorn on their side regarding freedom to travel, so it was a win-win situation for the government, specially since the vast majority of the objections has always been the receiving country.

      And I don’t think there is a two steps back for this particular issue, it was a good thing from everyone involved, in particular for the cuban people. It may not be a once and for all solution, but as I mentioned before it was never intended to be.

      I also agree that probably unwillingly this will increase the divide between white and blacks, but again thats because of racial motivations on the receiving countries and cultural trends from the cubans.

      What I mean is that in todays Cuba, there is no pretext for a black person not to have an education. Cuban people regardless of the race can achieve whatever education they want as long as they put the effort on it. That said, Cuban society have to deal with the mindset of centuries of Hispanic colonization, in particular the false notion that black people are not meant for intellectual prowess.

      To some degree the same happens with women and science, as a rule women are heavily underrepresented in most STEM fields, even when as far as I can tell the process is truly democratic and based on merit, without any visible gender or race bias, yet they choose by their own not to pursue those fields.

      But regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same. Highly educated and experienced people are more desirable for most countries so they are more likely to get a VISA, even if the risk of emigration is the same.

      I don’t think that the race card will play out the way you meant, way before racial bias become a social problem, people will realize that taking advantage of the free education offered will level the field for potential migration opportunities and will make sure their kids get a head start on the stuff the rest of the world needs.

  • ac

    Seriously? Why every everybody and their cat is allowed to publish in ht? From the article:

    “But this didn’t mean substantial progress in the establishment of the rule of law, because there was no recognition of the right to travel, only a greater permissiveness. According to the reform, a passport is not an obligation of the state to the citizen, but a privilege that’s granted – one that can ultimately be revoked. This is still true.”

    Thats true for EVERY government in the world. Citizens of ALL countries gets their right to travel revoked while serving a prison sentence, for instance, while others are not allowed to travel to certain places. Also, the author has a HUGE gap in the understanding of what a right means. From wikipedia:

    “Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.”

    In short, rights are precisely temporary privileges granted by society and can be revoked at any time. For instance, most legislations revoke the right to life to individuals committing actions that result in immediate threat to the life and safety of others (for instance, hostage taking, murder rampage, etc) and typically make explicit provisions to allow law enforcement to take lethal action against the perpetrator, effectively revoking his right to life.

    Then he conflates the immigration reform with the rules governing internal migration that as far as I’m concerned only put limits to the amount of people that can live in a house of a given size. Sorry, the two issues are way different and the internal migration rules seems a sensible approach to the problem of 25 people living in a single room house or the infamous “llega y pon” (shanty houses) caused by people that move to the capital without even having a place to live.

    As for the reforms themselves, they were definitively a big step forward and yes, there is still room for improvement. I agree that several of the issues raised by the article, but is pretty naive to think that the Cuban government would allow a complete 180 turn on their policies without safeguards of any kind. In my opinion, this is just the first step of a process that should be gradual. Time will tell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chip-Shirley/814383547 Chip Shirley

    I live in the USA. The Obama Administration has a system of allowing citizens to petition the president. If we get 100,000 signatures the president will issue a statement concerning the petition I have today filed a petition urging him to ‘Make friends with Cuba’ and normalize relations. You do not have to be a US citizen to sign this petition. I hope you will help me spread the word on this and sign the petition. Here is the text of it and the link to sign!
    …………………………………………………..
    Normalize relations with Cuba for free trade and travel between our two countries. This is long overdue! Canada does it!
    It’s Time to Make Up With Cuba!
    We already have closer
    relations with Cuba than dozens of other countries whom we travel and
    trade with. The whole world (except us) already has normal relations
    with Cuba.
    Here on the cusp of potential movement on our
    immigration issue with Mexico and South America, this would be the
    perfect time to recognize as friends, a small, but great nation with
    whom we have near perfect border and immigration relations already!
    Let us open up Cuba and the United States relations for the betterment of
    all. This would also be a message of peace to the whole world.

    Mr. President, tear down that wall! ;)
    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/normalize-relations-cuba-free-trade-and-travel-between-our-two-countries-long-overdue-canada-does-it/hcNJ823j

    • Moses Patterson

      Have you ever heard of the European Common Position with regards to Cuba. Look it up. Did you know that Cuba has a law that prohibits “disrespecting authority, i.e. the name Fidel Castro”? As a result, it is illegal to say “Baja Fidel!” …Small, but great nation? Really?