Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES, May 3 – “CAFE” is the acronym of a new Cuban-American organization. It stands for Cuban Americans for Engagement, a promising name that seems to indicate the will of their supporters to involve themselves in actions and policies in support of the Cuban community in the United States.
I don’t know many details about their purpose or how it is organized. In a family-like photo along with a legislative representative, appear nine people, most in their forties, professionals, all white, but both women and men.
Some of them are members of families of the island’s political, economic or cultural elite. Some have been favorite guests in the activities sponsored by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C., while yet others possess immigration statuses that are flexible enough for them to travel frequently to Cuba and return to the US without a hitch.
Some of these people have been contributors to online newspapers and have spoken out on various topics, on occasions arguing for critical support for the “updating” of the general/president (I should emphasize that the noun is their support, while their being critical is an addendum adjective).
Among these online periodicals is Cubadebate, the electronic daily of the Ideological Department of the Communist Party of Cuba.
C.A.F.E. is emerging at a time when the Cuban government has declared that it will implement immigration reform and that it will attempt to reshape its relations with the Cuban émigré community.
As I have noted elsewhere, this effort is aimed at improving the external image of the political regime, to gain the economic support of emigrants (remittances and investments) for its “updating” that is leaking in many places, and to coordinate an anti-embargo/anti-blockade lobby that can at least achieve the lifting of the travel ban on Americans to Cuba, an indispensable resource for tourism to takeoff.
I don’t think there exists the least intention on the part of the Cuban government to envision emigrants as citizens with full rights. They are only looking at them from a utilitarian perspective: as senders of remittances, payers for services and probably as investors.
I don’t know what the most intimate intentions are of the supporters of C.A.F.E., which for the moment doesn’t seem to have many members, but I think the emergence of this organization can’t be removed from this context: It, at least in the first instance, has a duty.
If this is the case, then I think that C.A.F.E. has become part of the problem and not the solution. This is simply because it’s strolling through a minefield with the inept joy of a baby elephant.
The statement by C.A.F.E. began by telling a story about their visit to the office of one Cuban-American senator linked to the Tea Party, though making it clear that they didn’t see him as being politically representative of them.
What the visit could be seen as was a way to explain to the public that other non-Cuban-American congressional representatives will be the targets that C.A.F.E. will aim at in its lobbying. They later visited the State Department, where they urged the official who attended to them to “take a broader view of the people-to-people contacts” and to avoid narrow concepts linking these strategies to political subversion.
All this meant a boost for Obama’s policies on an issue that obviously exceeds the specific relations between the Cuban communities on the two sides of the Florida Strait.
Personally I’m in agreement with all of this, just as I too disapprove of the Helms Burton Act. I would say that it was a political tour with nothing new, though a healthy sign. It was simply something that wasn’t objectionable.
The problems started on the other side of the process, when the C.A.F.E. members visited the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
With absolute transparency they outlined four points with the official who met with them. I imagine that this individual must have had the most comfortable interview of their career, more pleasant than the bembes (performances) of the La Colmenita children’s theater group.
Indeed, what the visitors told them is what every Cuban official has ever wanted to hear. Plus, all of this was despite the fact that the main obstacle to a healthy relationship between the Cuban communities on and off the island is anti-national, exclusionary and a discriminatory policy of the Cuban government.
Let’s consider the four approaches proposed by C.A.F.E.:
1 – An opening by the Cuban Government to Cuban-American investments in the sectors of small and medium-sized properties. This was heavenly music to the Cuban officials, who in the end can place the blame for its not being achieved on the embargo.
2. The elimination of restrictions on travel to the island imposed on specific social groups, including balseros (rafters) and doctors who abandoned their missions abroad. This was partially celestial music: the issue of the physicians will be left for deeper reflections in the future.
3. The excessive costs of processing paperwork for a passport or an exit permit, as well as travel expenses that abuse the possibility of a more active relationships between the Cuban community abroad and that on the island. This was more heavenly music. Note that there wasn’t even an objection to the exit permit. According to C.A.F.E., Cubans should just pay less for the violation of their right to freedom to travel.
4. The elimination of existing prejudice against Cuban-Americans that hinders a more active relationship between them and the institutions on the island, particularly in areas such as academic, educational and cultural exchanges. This was a complete celestial concert.
What was raised by C.A.F.E. — whatever the good intentions of its supporters may be — are light-years away from everything that is important with regard to this issue.
This has to do with the real problems that require a solution that is inseparable from the recognition of the full rights of travel for Cubans on both sides.
This relates to what are the most advanced diagnostic documents issued by institutions, an example of which is the hard-hitting report “La diaspora cubana en el siglo XXI” (The Cuban Diaspora in the 21st Century,” by CRI-FIU (Cuban Research Institute – Florida International University).
And what could possibly be even more paradoxical are the Cuban government’s own decisions in its attempt to change some of its immigration norms.
I think that regardless of specific policy approaches, nothing is plausible in the Cuban government’s relationship to Cuban immigration without addressing the key question of the principles of citizenship that establish the right of all Cubans to travel freely from and to return to their country of birth unless the individual expressly renounces their Cuban nationality.
This is a topic that is dense and full of resentment on both sides. That’s why I favor the idea of ??an explicit timetable for a gradual rebuilding of citizenship, but making clear to all the targets, deadlines and commitments.
It is not politically or morally acceptable to confuse our rights as citizens with the lowering of custom fees or the possibility of an entrepreneur investing in the Cuban economy.
It is frankly unforgivable to admit, even by omission, that the Cuban government uses the issue of immigration as a mechanism of political control, and that through this it deals very painful punishments and gives out petty rewards.
I think the C.A.F.E. supporters have placed themselves in a very complicated issue in the worst possible way.
It’s worthwhile to ponder the complex future of a large transnational space (it isn’t otherwise) called Cuban society.
This is something we truly need.
(*) Publicado originalmente en Cubaencuentro.com