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'Migratory changes' in Cuba: The Hype vs. the Reality

'Raúl Castro and his heirs need minor allies to sustain their nascent authoritarian capitalism and compensate for the national economic and demographic crisis.'

Ciudad de México

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has announced new immigration measures which, he says, show that "Cuba is opening up, while the US is closing down." It rescinds the ban on Cubans who left the country illegally, lifts the prohibition on entering by sea, eliminates the procedures of "habilitation" and "residence registration" for those who, respectively, wish to visit or nationalize their children born off the Island. But arbitrary vetoes, for political reasons, will continue.

The Cuban passport remains one of the most expensive in the world, must be renewed (for a fee) every two years; and is required to enter the country, as the dual citizenship of emigrants is not recognized. The glass is half full, or half empty, as each one sees it.

All this is due to a specific situation, context and future. The Cuban political elite wants to portray itself to the world as the open antithesis of a belligerent Donald Trump, in the wake of the crisis generated by the alleged acoustic attacks on diplomats on the island. Above all, Raúl Castro and his heirs need minor allies to sustain their nascent authoritarian capitalism and compensate for the national economic and demographic crisis.

As it has done with foreign capital —which it lures with a poorly paid, undereducated and docile proletariat— the dictatorship is seeking to woo a set of Cubans (mainly white, middle class and wielding capital) scattered around the world as a result of its erratic policies. It wants entrepreneurs and consumers to rebuild, withtheir know-how acquired abroad, a gentrified metropolitan Havana, and its equivalents in the rest of the Island. Skilled people willing and able to deal with system, adapting to its limitations and taking advantage of its opportunities. Always on thin ice, of course, in the absence of the guarantees and institutions of a state subject to the rule of law.

If someone who has grown up in and become part of an open and democratic society decides to return to one that is not, that is his or her decision. Just as there are those who return to the casino where they were fleeced, or to an abusive and humiliating relationship —in the hope that the bingo table will be more generous, or that this time they will be lucky in love— some will show up, with the hope of opening a business. Others, adolescents, will come to flaunt their prosperity and success. And many will go to see and help the relatives they left behind. And the Government, oblivious to scruples and pressures, will once again take advantage of our nobility and calculations, our anxiety and pain. Like always.

Now many people will achieve something like happiness, and I'm glad for them. They will breathe a sigh of relief at the grace that the overseer —eager for riches and prominence— grants his minions. But the key to the gate, and the memory and threat of the whip, remain in the hands of the same old masters, who are willing to close and open it, without any shame, as they deem most expedient. Think twice, those of you who have enjoyed the value and dignity of living under what we call (without appreciating it much) freedom.


This article originally appeared in Spanish at the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It is published and translated here with the author's permission.

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