Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — One of the darker themes of the recent Cuban immigration reform is that referring to professionals.
The Cuban government has argued that it will not permit the emigration of those professionals who are essential for national development, considering this as a measure to protect the country from the “brain drain” policies practiced by developed countries that negatively impact on Third World economies.
Later the Cuban government is saying that professionals who want to emigrate must wait five years — until their replacements are trained? — while whoever “deserts” can’t return for eight years. At least that seems to be what they’re now saying.
Wrapped in anti-imperialist rhetoric and generated from a small island in a deplorable economic situation, this manner of discussing immigration reform has permeated various opinion-shaping media sources.
Many analysts say this is understandable. They have even earned some praise for trying to counter the scheme employed by the United States to entice the desertion of Cuban doctors who are serving in Third World countries.
I believe, however, that the argument presented by Cuban officials is an erroneous proposal wrapped in false rhetoric.
As a preliminary explanation, I think the aforementioned American program is politically impudent, like any other program — for reasons both economic and political — that encourages the relocation of professionals from the South to the North.
I believe that Cuba, like any other country in the world, has the right and is obliged to defend its human resources and the investments it has been made in them. But it cannot do this in just any manner; this is mainly because there are authoritarian and repressive means that are unacceptable, violate inalienable human rights and are ineffective. This is what the Raul Castro government is doing.
First, behind the story of each brain that was “drained” was one that was misused. If Cuba has technical resources that exceed its economic need owing to the hypertrophy of the educational system and the reduction of its bureaucratic apparatus, and if it has a social and economic system that frustrates people’s aspirations, it’s understandable that people will emigrate with their degrees in hand.
They don’t always migrate to economic centers. Cuban professionals occupy highly visible areas among the professorial staffs of Dominican universities, newspapers and clinics. I don’t think you can talk very long about Dominican development without talking nonsense. The same applies to other countries in America and even Africa.
Cuba needs to clearly lay out the rules that it is adopting for its protection. I believe that every professional must fulfill a national social service obligation to pay for their studies or else they should not receive their diploma. Otherwise they could financially reimburse the government if they don’t wish to perform any social service. All of this should be quite clear and subject to contractual agreements.
But no government has the right to prevent a person from leaving the country or returning freely for political, ideological or professional reasons.
Therefore what the Cuban government should do is grow up and join the century in which we live. It needs to realize that every Cuban émigré — especially if this person is a high-level professional — is a veritable mine of knowledge, experiences and relationships; they represent authentic social capital that should be availed upon through positive policies.
It’s time to look at professionals who emigrated as opportunities – not as problems. If they aren’t seen in this manner, if they aren’t dealt with accordingly, Cuban society will continue to lose on all sides.
The problem lies in that the Cuban government doesn’t want to give up its role as a rentier state. It desperately needs cash and is only interested in quick and easy money. It seriously believes that the country is a powerhouse of knowledge with the capacity to export technical resources, and in that lies its future.
However, what we’re actually doing is exporting technical and professional specialties into very special niches: underdeveloped countries with little money or where there are special political ties, as is so much the case with Venezuela.
In this — not like some anti-imperialist battle, as proclaimed in the rhetoric — lies the restrictive clause of immigration reform, which will fall particularly hard on doctors and health care personnel.
The point is that as long as the government can continue to monopolize the contracts for Cuban personnel abroad, it will continue to receive the very significant sums of income it now receives, paying the technicians under contract mere pennies.
To continue this path they need to keep those doctors and professionals in a position of maximum vulnerability, like new type of highly qualified recruits, always with their families as hostages.
The day a Cuban doctor can travel freely, contracted under the conditions dictated by the labor market in each place and can be joined by her/his family without restrictions (here or there), this business will be over, or at least it will be restricted to those people who have no other options.
With it will end the revenues that not only subsidize the chronic economic incapacity of this political class, but also provides income for technocrats, high-level officials and governmental leaders, all who are active in their bourgeois conversion processes. This is the money that makes it possible to enjoy those exclusive and expensive nights — that one can now live in Havana.
Let me give you a real example that I know of personally. This is an individual who I knew back in the old days when I was in high school, and who was able to become a recognized specialist.
At 55 years old, this person was hired by ANTEX (the Antillean Export Corporation) as a professor in a provincial university in South America. But when he arrived, there was no such university position available, so he was sent to a village that lacked electricity to staff a general medical clinic.
In a letter, he wrote telling me that he was tired and didn’t know if he’d be able to withstand two years under such conditions, which were already taking a toll on his health.
But, he wrote, it wasn’t possible to return to Cuba because his family there — grandchildren included — desperately needed his meager income. Alternately, to leave the mission will mean condemning himself to a long separation, which his age wouldn’t allow.
Obviously, this person could easily find employment in any Latin American country — to give an example — and even restricting his services to public health care, he would earn many times over what he now receives, and without having to thank the ANTEX technocrats who selected him for a mission in a remote village.
And if he managed to do the same in the developed North, the situation would be even more beneficial.
It’s really unfortunate how the press, governments and some of the émigré media are slapping themselves on the backs over the announcement of immigration reform, calling it “monumental” or “a qualitative change.”
Actually the reform leaves the issue of immigration in place as an issue of permits and authorizations that an authoritarian state, not subject to any social control whatsoever, can grant or revoke. It can continue practicing the expropriation of citizens’ rights like a political battering ram in the hands of the state. The case of professionals is a very clear example of this.
It’s understandable that the Cuban people are cheerful given this breathe of fresh air in an atmosphere that is otherwise so strained. It’s normal for them to see something positive in this reform, something that promises to improve their lives in some way.
One cannot lose sight of this complex dimension in which the prisoners are joyful over the jailers loosening their shackles. If I were a prisoner — to continue with that metaphor — I would be happy too.
What is really depressing is the joy and clapping of those who haven’t lived in the prison for a long time and who obviously don’t think of returning to it, despite all the sympathies they feel for Raul Castro and his dubious “updating of the model.”
(*) Published originally by Cubaencuentro.com.