Último Jueves digital: The Space of Citizenship and its Limits. [Complete transcript]

"To this end, the TEMAS editorial team created a WhatsApp group that on Thursday, April 30, discussed with a group of guest panelists the various issues related to emigration and the exercise of citizenship. We invite you to read the full version of the reflections and comments exchanged by the panelists and invitees to this novel ULTIMO JUEVES event".

Lea aquí la versión en español del artículo.

The pandemic interrupted abruptly in March our series of monthly debates. Currently unable to predict how long this situation will go on, the TEMAS-ULTIMO JUEVES production team intends to continue these debate sessions digitally. To this end, the TEMAS editorial team created a WhatsApp group that on Thursday, April 30, discussed with a group of guest panelists the various issues related to emigration and the exercise of citizenship. We invite you to read the full version of the reflections and comments exchanged by the panelists and invitees to this novel ULTIMO JUEVES event.


José Manuel Pallí. Lawyer, journalist. Contemporary historian. Born in Cuba, raised in Argentina, now resident in the United States. Media partner in the US. Creator and organizer of the TEMAS debate space ULTIMO JUEVES in Miami.

Manuel Gómez. Bachelor of Biochemistry (Harvard), Master of Environmental Health (Hunter College), Doctor of Public Health (Johns Hopkins University). Emigrated in 1961 to the United States. Active from a very young age against the US embargo / blockade against Cuba.

Jesús Arboleya. Doctor in History. Professor, researcher, political analyst. Specialist in United States-Cuba relations and Cuban emigration. Media collaborator in Cuba and the United States.

Yan Guzmán Hernández. Doctor and Professor of Constitutional Law and Theory of Law. Faculty of Law, University of Havana.

Karel García. Singer-songwriter, member of the third generation of the Nueva Trova. Author of numerous songs and albums. Lived fifteen years in Spain. Now lives in Cuba.

Susana Camino. Narrator, journalist, poet. Author of several novels published in Cuba and Germany, her country of residence for the last thirty years, is also an editor.

Rafael Hernández. Political Scientist. Director of Temas.


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ (Chair): Good afternoon. Welcome to Último Jueves, the discussion space of the TEMAS journal, via this WhatsApp group that we have created for today's debate. The purpose of this remote panel is to try it out in a very experimental way. We have never done it this way before so it is a completely new experience and we want to see how well we are able to interact through this medium.

We are accompanied in this panel by a group of outstanding scholars who will speak to the topic from their own experience, which is sometimes that of studying the topic, sometimes of writing on the topic or sometimes it is that of living the topic, the subject this month being Citizenship and its limits, specifically in relation to the issue of relations between Cuban society in Cuba with those who live abroad.

Here in Havana, where I am, it is raining. Luckily we are not outdoors, but we are seeing how the rain comes down in this part of Havana. All those who are connected live to this panel right now are able to read or listen to the interventions of our six guests. For our readers, we have reproduced them below.

Without further ado, I'll begin with the first question: What is citizenship? A legal statute? A set of recognized rights? A passport? A residence permit? A social, political, cultural practice? A right to participate in society? How can it be defined or measured? 

JOSÉ MANUEL PALLI: For someone like me who was born in one country, raised and educated in another country, and has lived in a third country for forty years, these questions are likely to be understood differently from those whose lives have been less complicated.

I was taught in the country where I was raised and educated (Argentina), that citizenship is a political-legal link that ties a person to a State. It is the most perfect way that one has to join the State, based on the exercise of the rights and duties that the condition of citizen implies. It is citizenship that makes us feel more connected to our historical past and to our future.

Only in my case that tie is not with one but with three States. And my confusion is even greater because in the course of my life I have noticed that the emphasis always falls on the political aspect of the citizen's rights, essentially the right to vote and to be elected. And, unfortunately, none of the states with which I have been linked during my life as a citizen have been very scrupulous or bothered about restricting and even depriving their respective citizens of their political rights.

That is why I have always tried to focus, humbly, on the most valuable aspect that, in my opinion, emanates from that relationship of citizenship that I maintain with my three States (or nations, or countries, or homelands: sometimes I feel like Doña Flor and I even confuse names ...): and that most valuable aspect is civic responsibility. Civic responsibility, as I was also taught in my childhood, is a commitment to the institutions and interests of the homeland.

Furthermore, I see civic responsibility as the best answer to the question about how citizenship should or could be measured. In my case, I have managed, I think, to maintain that sense of civic responsibility with respect to the country where I was born (my beautiful Cuba) and the country where I was raised and educated despite having lived in the United States for forty years. 

MANUEL GÓMEZ: Citizenship or citizen status in Cuba is a legal status defined by national origin or naturalization, a real ability to participate and a residence that allows it. It also grants rights and demands duties. The new constitution made progress in clarifying these issues, especially by allowing, implicitly, a type of dual citizenship that already existed de facto. A Citizenship Law is scheduled for 2022, and I understand that it will define in more detail “effective citizenship” that has been talked about so much. I also understand that it will clarify above all the rights of citizens based on their true residence, something which is complex because it will have to clarify the contradictions that arise from those who come back to their country, exercise their rights to free health care for example, and then leave again. In other words, the rights to free public services for citizens who reside outside the country most of the time. Time will then tell us what remains to be done if the United States abandons its hostile policy.

Most importantly, citizenship is not an absolute. It depends on the country and its historical, political, economic and social determinants. Let's take a simple example: this discussion in 2020 is not the same as if it had been in 1960. The most important determinants have been, and still are, the clash between Cuba’s sovereignty and socialism with the US regime change policy; both greatly affect the migrant community here in the United States, the homeland, and the relations between the two. The new constitution and the Citizenship Law are and will be important determinants, because by retaking the initiative regarding Cuban émigrés, the Cuban State is forging a relationship with the migrant community which is much more detached from the Cuba-United States conflict than in the past. 

YAN GUZMÁN: Citizen status determines a legal link with a given State, which involves rights, duties and responsibilities that derive from that status. Citizenship provides a person with a special legal status with respect to a country. Citizen status is obtained at birth, with the exception of statelessness. It can also be acquired and for that to happen the person must meet certain requirements, where residence plays an important role.

The term citizenship has been related, to a greater or lesser degree, to that of nationality, which is given by a social and cultural condition that the person has with respect to a nation. The desirable pattern is that the psycho-sociocultural ties generated by nationality are matched by the legal-political ties that relate to citizenship, but it is only a desirable pattern, considering that there are more than 270 million migrants in the world. The passport is a legal migration document that recognizes a person's right to free movement with respect to the limits that a country sets, in other words, it allows them to enter another country under the terms and conditions set by the latter, and to return to the country whose authorities issued it.

In times of globalization, the term citizenship has broadened and is not limited to a nation-state. These days, for example, we speak of a European citizen, the citizen with the most comprehensive geographical access, given it’s not limited to a single nation. There is also dual citizenship and the notion of effective citizenship, recently introduced with the 2019 constitutional reform.

Citizen status must allow participation in the political, economic and social affairs of a given country. Some rights, such as political rights, especially the right to vote, are conceded on the basis of residence, although at present there are quite a few countries that allow voting from abroad when a person has emigrated.

There is no way of measuring citizenship, except based on the fact that it comprises a plethora of rights, duties and responsibilities, and the extent to which a person can participate in the affairs of the country where they reside is the best measure of citizenship. 

SUSANA CAMINO: For me, citizenship is everything. It is also a cultural, legal, political feature. A citizen should have all rights in his home country and in the country where she/he chooses to live. In the case, for example, of a Cuban living in Europe, when she/he becomes a citizen of the country where they live, they have all the rights. And when I say all rights, I mean they have cultural and legal rights, but also political. A citizen has the right to vote. Citizens should participate in the elections, go to the polling station where they vote, and choose which party they want to vote for. That is possible in Germany where I live. This is how all citizens do it. The citizen has the right to everything. To travel, to buy what they want, to choose how they want to live and to choose where they want to work and study. Citizenship is an overarching condition that contains all the rights to act as she/he pleases as long as it is legal to do so.


JESÚS ARBOLEYA: Jurists and philosophers probably approach these questions differently. From the historical point of view, although the concept of citizenship dates back to ancient times, from the earliest days of modern times it is related to the generic concept of the “social contract”. In other words, it relates to the rights and duties assumed by social consensus in relation to a given nation-state. Seen in this way, it is not the same everywhere and at all times, nor does it stop evolving according to circumstances, although it is based on common principles for defining citizen status. I think that "multinationality", something that is so common these days, reflects the impact of globalization on the national arena, with repercussions on citizenship, which must also be taken into account in the Cuban case. Although this issue does not only apply to émigrés, emigration increases its complexity, as they are people who generally adopt other citizenships and develop political commitments with other countries, which in the case of Cuba is a particularly sensitive issue, given the conflict with the United States and the high concentration of Cuban émigrés living in that country. In any case, there are real differences between the level of involvement of emigrants compared to the ordinary Cuban citizen. These differences need to be taken into account without it meaning the absolute loss of citizenship rights of the emigrants, as is recognized by Cuba's Constitution. The aim of Cuban law and practice should be to keep these differences to the minimum, to encourage the integration of emigrants in the civic life of their home country.

KAREL GARCÍA: Citizen status is, for me, a mixture of the previous ideas, with the exception of the passport and / or residence (which are nothing more than bureaucratic mechanisms of universal control) and, also in my opinion, the main feature of citizenship is the sense of belonging that every migrant develops to a greater or lesser extent with respect to the place where he lives. 


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: How do migrants relate to their country of origin and their country of residence? With society and the political order of their country of origin? With society and order in the country where they live? To what extent does the status of emigrant-immigrant limit, beyond the formally recognized rights, the effective exercise of their status as a citizen of their country of origin? 

JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: It seems to me that the relationship that emigrants or immigrants may or may not have with their country of origin depends a lot on the degree (and intensity) of civic responsibility that they retain toward that country of origin, and in my case, that degree of responsibility (and especially its intensity) has varied quite frequently.

For example, during my twenty years in Argentina (from 8 to 27 years of age) my sense of civic responsibility toward Cuba, my country of origin, was fairly dormant (despite the fact that many of the friendships I made during those twenty years still call me "the Cuban").

I had to settle in the United States (specifically in Miami, which should probably count as a fourth country in my personal experience) in order for that sense of civic responsibility towards Cuba to reawaken. Initially (the 1980s), I expressed that civic spirit in the same way as most of my relatives and fellow citizens (of Cuban origin) in Miami: condemning “the regime” and demanding the application of sanctions against it. Although I pride myself on never having gone to the extreme of trying to limit or put conditions on the rights and opinions of other people from Miami who chose to express their citizenship of their country of origin (Cuba) in a much more effective way.

All that until I joined that growing group of Cuban expatriates in Miami who understood, sooner or later, that to effectively exercise our rights as Cuban citizens there was no other way than to strengthen our links with Cuba.

MANUEL GÓMEZ: The country-emigrant relationship also depends on the country, the time, and the context. The Cuban case has something very particular, because different émigré groups have very different relationships with Cuba.

The first wave of emigration was the misnamed "exile" of those most directly affected by government measures, followed later by a group who feared communism (especially the middle class, whose world was disappearing). Their relationship is characterized by a fierce rejection of the Cuban system of government, and little or no desire to relate to the country in its current form. Although the views of this group still largely dominate public discourse in South Florida, this sector is disappearing because of its age and because it cannot be reproduced.

After those first emigrants, beginning with the Mariel exodus in 1980, the pattern of emigration has become increasingly similar to that of the Caribbean region. People emigrate fundamentally as a response to two factors: the desire for greater material wealth and personal fulfillment, although one cannot be naive, they also partially reject the Cuban system for what they perceive as its defects, errors and insufficiencies. Most are or will soon be "permanent" emigrants, so integrated into their adoptive country - through experience, residence, jobs, studies, children, etc. - that Cuba will only be an occasional and even infrequent place to visit. Consequently, few of them are going to be concerned about the question of citizenship.

A smaller group is made up of the "circular" emigrants who "repatriate", come and go frequently, and divide their residence. Many of these travel for business reasons and have more ties to family and friends, and to the country in general. The question of citizenship is more relevant to these people, although it already appears to be legally resolved. If the number of retirees with dual-residence grows in the future, their role as citizens will also require more attention, especially due to the enormous increase in the demographic profile of the elderly in the country. If the policy of the United States were to change, I think that these two groups would increase considerably, for the good of the country if the inequalities that they would cause can be well managed. 

YAN GUZMÁN: The status of “émigré” places the person in a two-way relationship, in terms of his position as an emigrant from his country of origin and as an immigrant with respect to the country in which he lives. The relationship with society and with the political order of that country will depend on its immigration policy and the legislation that is devised in line with that policy. Nor is it the same to emigrate legally, through legal mechanisms that have the effect of giving more guarantees, as illegally which has negative consequences for the relationship that one hopes to establish with the destination country. There are other differences that affect the relationship with society and the country where the émigré lives.

However, the main relationship the majority of émigrés form with the country where they live is through work. This does not mean that other types of relationships are not established, such as involvement in political life or other social involvement. The most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of migrants is the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, approved by the UN General Assembly in 1990, without ignoring that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were already pronouncing on and concerned with the essential rights of immigrants.

Regarding the relationship established with the country of origin, there are also nuances, but in general, the intention is that migrants be treated in the same way as their fellow citizens residing in the country of origin and, consequently, retain their rights. If we were talking about migrants with political refugee status or those classed as displaced persons, the relationship with the political order of their country of origin will be marked by that situation.

In a broad sense, the Convention itself recognizes the vulnerable position in which migrant workers and their families frequently find themselves, due, among other things, to not being in their State of origin and the difficulties they encounter due to living in the State where they are employed, which is why it takes account of the right of migrants to return to their country of origin, why the consular or diplomatic missions of their State of origin give them protection and assistance, while allowing them to participate in the public affairs of their State of origin and to vote and be elected in elections held in that State, in accordance with the relevant legislation. 

SUSANA CAMINO: After the Second World War, Germany had huge-scale immigration, people who arrived to work, to reconstruct the buildings, as everything was destroyed by the bombings of the war. Migrants arrived from countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Those immigrants stayed, they made a family, a life and later, when they started working here in the factories, their children were born here, their grandchildren too; and these people, after they had reached a certain age, returned to their countries, although their children remained here and so did their grandchildren, because they were already adapted to German customs, but they spent their vacations in the country of their parents or grandparents. More recently, Germany has received people persecuted by war, from Syria and other war-torn countries. Those people were given houses, language courses so as they could integrate, their children were given schooling, daycares, so that they could have a dignified life and could become integrated into German society. For these people, of course, it is very difficult to integrate into a country like Germany, because they have other customs, another language, another way of seeing things; but of course, they have been given a chance to start from scratch.

JESÚS ARBOLEYA: Emigrants tend to relate, in some way or another, to the society of origin. Politics is very important because it establishes the norms underpinning these relationships, but so are the economic, family and cultural ties. Even when there is no physical contact, these motivations are part of the existential needs of the emigrants and often of their descendants. The case of Cuba is a good example of this. Despite the impact on personal contacts that the conflict with the United States has caused, which has even involved at times both governments developing policies aimed at creating more distance between them, it has been impossible to prevent these relations, which are currently very fluid.

KAREL GARCÍA: I think that in the case of Cubans this condition is even more pronounced. “Cubanness” is very strong and makes itself felt wherever you are. Also, out of respect, Cubans learn to adapt without losing their roots. Whether emigrant-immigrant status limits the effective exercise of citizenship status in the country of origin depends on that, I suppose. In my case I have never found any barrier in this regard. The feeling is one of having gone out into the world for a long time (fifteen years and one day) and having returned with a bag of new experiences, but with the same accent when I talk.


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: How are Cuban emigrants and those from other countries different? Are they an exception? Are they political refugees? And if they are not, what leads some to behave as if they were? And what obstacles do those who do not behave like exiles have to face? In the country where they reside? In Cuba?


JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: I do not see great differences between Cuban emigrants and those from other countries. That some of them, particularly those who have settled in the United States (especially those of us who left Cuba in the 1960s), “feel” like political refugees does not change my opinion.

Returning to the reality of my Miami ghetto, that vision of the Cuban emigrant as an exile or political refugee has been perpetuated because many have become political refugees in another sense: their feelings (or resentments) towards those who have ruled the island for sixty years and their contempt for the Cuban population on the island have made them a tool of domestic politics in the United States (out of purely electoral interests) at the service of many political actors, both local and national,.

And the small-mindedness of that vision is repeated ad nauseam: only a few days ago, the city councilors and the mayor of the city of Miami asked the Federal Congress to pass a law that allows the city to ban Cuban artists from performing in Miami.

But the small-mindedness and the absurdity are not just confined to the field of politics. For years my second alma mater as a lawyer, the University of Miami, offered a course called "Cuba after Castro," for which, as I understand it, students had to pay the same fees as if they were taking a course in, say, Marine Biology. I imagine that a number of those who took that "course" are today White House officials…

It is years since I have behaved (or felt) like an exile, and I have only had the occasional minor difficulty in my interaction with Cuba. Nor in the country where I reside (at least till now). But even so, I understand "the feeling" of those who identify with what they call "the historical Cuban exile." And I call it a "feeling" because I can't find (especially after sixty years) any rational basis for it, much less ideological.

What I see in this type of attitude is simply a feeling, because they are not governed by anything other than emotion, rancor, and above all "the shame of having been and the pain of no longer being". And I understand the reasons (some valid) why many feel this way, even though that feeling, sixty years on, seems irrational to me. Here in the United States, there are still those who feel that way even after one and a half centuries since their ancestors were defeated in the Civil War. And our current "Maximum Leader" uses these emotions as if we were still going through the era of "Reconstruction", because in my opinion MAGA is nothing more than reliving that dark period of the second half of the 19th century. 

MANUEL GÓMEZ: There is an atmosphere of hatred towards Cuba that permeates the air we breathe around Cuban émigrés, that poisons and confuses the issue of Cuban citizenship in the United States, especially in Florida. Citizenship is addressed only as an instrument for regime change, not as a way to contribute to the development of the country. That's pure poison, and it will probably last until the US changes its policy, if that ever happens. I think that this environment, which is so politicized, and so different from in Cuba itself, makes this group of émigrés very different from many other migrant groups.

And both in Cuba and the United States there is still a rejection of what is probably a growing minority who actually do want to contribute to the country's development. Until now, Cuba has been very cautious in opening up paths for that minority, for reasons that are well known and understandable, but I think that every day the greatest obstacle to overcome, in Cuba, is probably related to greater openness in the framework of discussion about political issues in Cuba, achieving a broader consensus of opinion in the country, a consensus that can include that minority of émigrés who have formed part of a social system with different values, but who do not support regime change at all, but neither do they agree with everything that happens on the island, or how it happens. Criticism can and should strengthen the country. And Cuba shouldn't wait for most of the émigrés to be a reflection of what the Antonio Maceo Brigade once was - or seemed to be - that is, openly left-wing, because they will not be that. Of course, such a change in attitude would have to happen across the board in Cuba, not just amongst its émigrés.

I fear that healthy and full participation - a normalization, so to speak - may not be possible while the Cuba-United States conflict continues to be so severe, with the hostile policies and approach of the United States, on the one hand, and the mindset and habits of the country-under-siege which are still as strong today in Cuba. But I'm glad it's being attempted, even if I don't end up seeing it in my lifetime. 

YAN GUZMÁN: The uniqueness of Cuban émigrés has its roots in several components that have come from a geopolitically complex context: the direct confrontation of the Revolution's socialist project with the United States, the main destination of Cuban emigration, not only because of the so-called American dream, which has a global effect, especially for those of us who live in Latin America, but also because of the geographical proximity and the historical ties that have united both countries, for better and for worse. Another element that makes it unique is the way in which Cuban émigrés have been treated during the more than 60 years of Revolution, within Cuba, added to which we have the US immigration policy, legislation and measures relating to Cubans.

I don't think they should be regarded as political refugees. Maybe some were right to claim that status in the early years of the Revolution, but it is a term that is no longer relevant if the aim is to describe Cuban émigrés these days, in a broad sense, even if we were to consider only those who emigrate to the United States. The vast majority of Cubans who emigrate can return to Cuba, as tourists, and with the easing of the immigration policy in 2013, most can now "repatriate" without fear of sanctions or retaliation.

The United States' own immigration policy aimed at Cuba has encouraged some Cubans to behave as political exiles, because that has made it much easier for them to legalize their status there. We have seen this many times since the beginning of the Revolution, including the exodus promoted by the Kennedy government, or since the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966, or as a product of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy. Even nowadays, claiming political refugee status is one of the criteria for being eligible for the United States Refugee Admissions Program.

Cubans who do not claim exile status have to overcome, in the country where they live or hope to live, the same obstacles as the other immigrants who come from other countries, including the difficulties of finding a job, or benefiting from the rights to health care or of obtaining residence or aspiring to citizenship in the country where they are going to live, just to mention the main difficulties.

Their status in Cuba does not differ, except for those who have threatened national security or public order, in the sense that they have the same limitations as those emigrants who consider themselves political exiles or have been classified as such by the immigration authorities of the country in which they are going to live. 

SUSANA CAMINO: Cubans mostly come to Germany to join their families. That's the only way you can stay. Anyone who enters on a tourist visa can stay for just three months, Germany does not allow any longer period. When the person begins to integrate, they learn the language, go through training, go to work, start a family. Some participate in politics, although most are not interested in politics, but I do know some Cubans who are interested in German politics. They try to have a social life.

JESÚS ARBOLEYA: After the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Cuban migration was marked by political connotations. Not only because of the socio-political motivations of those who emigrated in the very early days of the Revolution, but also because of the role played by migration in the US policy towards Cuba and the benefits it entailed, which has created objective conditions for reproducing the conflict and made it more difficult to resolve. They are not exiles, since the vast majority did not leave the country on account of political persecution, but they established themselves as the social base of the counterrevolution and the extreme right established a tight grip over the Cuban immigrant community. Any attempt to violate their position in this group has come at a high cost to those who have tried, some even their life. At the other end of the spectrum, also because of this political connotation, emigrating has often been viewed in Cuba as a betrayal of the homeland and this has made it extremely difficult for emigrants to link back with the country. There are prejudices that still exist in certain sectors of Cuban society, where extremism and dogmatism prevent an adequate understanding of the phenomenon and impede the best relationship between the parties. Someone said that the emigrants had ended up being hostages to the conflict between Cuba and the United States and it seems they may be right.

KAREL GARCÍA: Being Cuban is exceptional, always. Some, very few I would say, are true political refugees. I suppose that the sense of helplessness and envy borne out of nostalgia through not being able, or not wanting, to return, leads some to behave as refugees. Wherever you go it will never be easy, the idiosyncrasies of the people around you change, the customs, the ideas about social and individual relationships, a lot of factors that you have to process in order to adapt with as little stress as possible. That's without taking into account the language barrier.

RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: How has the relationship between Cuban emigrants and their country of origin changed? To what extent has Cuban migration laws, since 2013, impacted them in relation to economic activity and other aspects of social, political, and cultural life? Are there limitations for émigrés (in any of these aspects) as compared with permanent residents in Cuba?


JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: I believe that the change resulting from the amendments to Cuban migratory regulations has been significant, even for us Cuban émigrés who live in the US. It's noticeable, and to some degree understandable, that there is a certain defensiveness toward them on the part of the Cuban authorities.

I imagine that for Cuban émigrés residing in other countries the impact of those amendments must be even greater. Although, in general, there are still conditions and limitations that undermine or devalue the Cuban citizen status and Cuba needs to review that.

With regard to Cuban émigrés in the US, the attempt by the previous occupant of the White House to open up relations between the two countries from December 2014, combined with the modifications to Cuban immigration regulations in 2013, paved the way for closer economic, social and cultural interactions. I don't know (or I don't have evidence) if that's true of political relations too. But these days all of that is water under the bridge. We have returned to the dark years of isolation - our own isolation in relation to the rest of the world and even to the rest of the United States, since Cuba, far from being isolated, remains much more open than the hearts and the minds of our exiles.

The main factor which keeps that feeling and that hostile commitment to isolating Cuba alive, especially among my Miami compatriots, is, in my opinion, the very effective oral tradition of a vision of the history of the Cuban Revolution centered on its greatest defects and errors. It's a vision that does not allow questioning or revisionism of any kind. It's like the Iliad sung over and over again by the Trojans. If we add to that the interests of our petit-politicians (and not only Cuban-American) in taking advantage politically or electorally of that feeling and that commitment, repeating these tales of woe (especially in these times of social media) is a perfect explanation.

Imagine, still today, incredibly, there are people (and even young people) writing pieces of oratory that seek to vindicate the patriotic feat of the Cuban exiled community in Miami during its Waterloo twenty years ago in defense of the "rights" of the young boy Elián González! They draw their inspiration for simplistic or "chickenshit" measures such as those sponsored by the Miami municipal authorities banning Cuban artists from performing in Miami from the argument that Cuba does not allow "Cuban-American" artists to perform in Cuba. My solution to it would be to organize a "Concert of Reunion and Brotherhood" in a city in Cuba and extend an open invitation to all "Cuban-American" artists who want to appear on stage. I have in my personal library an "Encyclopedia of Music in Cuba", published in Cuba in 2009, which includes Celia Cruz (with a photo) and Olga Guillot (also with photo, and I mention it because there are not many reviews with a photo) as well as many other artists and musicians who have emigrated over the last sixty years. 

MANUEL GÓMEZ: The more or less "normal" travel opportunities of recent years, the new immigration laws, and above all, the changes in the Cuban official policy towards emigration, which support these steps and others, have been the main factors which have brought about closer ties amongst certain sectors of Cuban émigrés with the country. The number of émigrés participating in life in Cuba has gone up considerably, and not only in terms of business dealings, although these are the ones that are most visible and well-known. Twenty years ago, participating in a scientific conference or a musical event in Cuba was practically an act of professional suicide for someone from the Miami area. Nowadays, there may still be an attempt to ostracize, but much less so, even with the tightening of Trump's policies toward Cuba.

As I have already mentioned, the barriers to that sort of participation come from the US policies and, to a lesser degree, the obstacles that still exist in Cuba, such as the narrow climate for political discussion that still scares many émigrés - due to misunderstanding or whatever.

And finally, we cannot forget that thanks to the US blockade / embargo, I cannot legally collect my retirement pension in Cuba, Fanjul cannot invest in the joint ventures that he would like to from the United States, and small businesspersons have to carry their cash to Cuba in their pockets. Cuban law allows this to a certain extent, although I am not sure if it is sufficiently easy, but US regulations fundamentally prohibit it or hinder it enormously. 

YAN GUZMÁN: The relationship of Cuban émigrés with their country of origin has undergone changes. These days, these changes have manifested themselves more in terms of political and psychosocial issues than in émigré rights as such. In this sense, we have overcome the situation in which Cuban emigrants broke off their links with their family, their friends, their country of origin due to the political-ideological imperative that led to them emigrating at the beginning of the Revolution or in the 1970s and 1980s. This can be seen in verifiable data on the number of Cuban emigrants who come back to visit Cuba, including those who visit who were born outside Cuba, in personal and economic relationships that they maintain with their family and friends, and also in the interest shown by some to be involved in the country's economic life.

The 2013 immigration regulations have had a positive influence insofar as they have allowed Cubans to travel abroad, without having to emigrate and, therefore, maintain ties with their country, in particular with reference to their property. Today there are Cubans (a minority) who could be classified as transmigrants as that they maintain a dynamic of multiple return trips between Cuba and another country, even when they have residence rights in that other country.

The 2013 immigration regulations have been consistent with the right of everyone to reside outside their country of origin, a right that is recognized in various international treaties, but the regulations have not been consistent with the protection of the rights of Cubans who have emigrant status. It is still necessary to fulfil the requirement of "effective residence" to be able to enjoy the benefits.

In this sense, Cubans who emigrate, that is, are away from Cuba for more than 24 months, without an authorized extension, lose part of their status as Cuban citizens, to the extent that certain fundamental rights are limited compared to other Cubans who are resident in Cuba, not only political rights, but also social and property rights. This has resulted in the use of the term "repatriation" for those Cubans who, by virtue of Decree No. 305/2012, have an interest in returning to reside again in Cuba. That term is used to reflect the recovery of all the rights of citizen status which may have been lost. 

SUSANA CAMINO: I can't give a general answer to that question. For example, any Cuban who goes to live in another country, adapts very quickly to life in that country where he is living, where he has established himself, to be able to earn money, which is the most important thing, to be able to help his family back in Cuba. I have the impression that Cubans, from what I have seen and experienced, live for Cuba. Their body is overseas but their heads, their minds, their souls, are all in Cuba. And I find that is the way it is until their dying days. Cubans would always like to have an economic status, like in Europe - which is where I know, I don't know about other countries -. They would like to have the same as they have in Europe, but in Cuba. 

JESÚS ARBOLEYA: Migration trends have changed. Firstly, because of the changing social profile of those who emigrate, and also the conditions in which this happens. It's no longer those who were affected by the Revolution who emigrate, as was the case in the early years, but it is a local phenomenon borne out of the socialist system itself, determined by its own contradictions. The conflict of the emigrants with the Cuban system no longer responds to a class issue and, therefore, it cannot be claimed that it is motivated by counter-revolutionary sentiments, something that is reflected in the actions of the majority. Cuban emigration itself has also evolved within its own context, particularly due to the emergence of new generations who have different perspectives and interests. In the same way, the way Cuban society views migration and relationships with émigrés has changed. There is no longer the level of conflict that there was in the past. This explains the changes in the 2013 Migration Law, which, although they may now be considered to have not gone far enough, represented an important step forward in relation to what had been legislated previously.

KAREL GARCÍA: Cuba currently has these relationships detailed in legislation with the greatest degree of flexibility possible. Almost all Cuban emigrants can return and even repatriate in Cuba, able to reclaim all their rights and everything offered by the State.

RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: How easy is it for emigrants to maintain links with life in Cuba? What are their reasons for doing so? To what extent do emigrants have the facility and real interest in participating in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of the country? Are they a majority? Do they have the interests, means, motivations and ways to do it?

JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: Again, and in my humble and very personal opinion, it depends more than anything on the spirit of civic responsibility that may inspire each one of us. I don't see Cuba as a source of income, despite the fact that in my professional activities related to law and real estate rights I have always been clear that Cuba, eventually, could become a kind of Disneyland for anyone who wants to study potential conflicts regarding the assessment and consolidation of real estate property titles on the Island.

I've spent years trying to come to grips with Cuban law and my colleagues on the Island, motivated by my wanting to contribute something (undoubtedly very little) to shaping that law, in the complete understanding that unless I know it very well, my contribution will be even more insignificant.

As for participating in Cuban politics, that is an issue that I have always been very clear about, based on the nomadic nature of my own citizenships. I am an Argentine citizen but I do not vote in Argentina because I have not lived there for forty years, because I am not aware of what is happening there and would not suffer the consequences of having voted for a character like, say, the current occupant of the White House … I feel the same way about Cuba, after not having lived in Cuba for nearly sixty years. Currently, the only place where I have, politically speaking, with skin in the game, as we say in gringo-speak, is in the US.

By this I do not mean that the legal status of a Cuban citizen should bar émigrés from voting, nor Cubans who are not resident in Cuba. If immigrants can vote, let them vote. If they choose to demand the right to vote, let them. All I'm saying is that this is a right that I don't t want for myself, because even if I had it, I wouldn't feel entitled to exercise it, unless I returned to live in Cuba. 

MANUEL GÓMEZ: Only a minority of emigrants are or would be interested and able to remain connected or participate in national life. Those would be the "circular" migrants mentioned above, perhaps another even smaller group with professional interests - such as writers, artists, musicians and other professionals - or those with personal ties in the country of origin and / or their families and friends.

YAN GUZMÁN: It is not easy to answer this question, because there is no single type of emigrant, to the extent that the political, sociocultural, geographic and economic contexts differ, and consequently the reasons why they emigrate. This is also true of their family ties and the country that they have left behind. Emigration is a complex phenomenon. These days it is inaccurate to claim that the countries from which people migrate are generally underdeveloped or so-called Third World countries, and the host countries are mostly developed. Today we don't only talk of a South-North emigration, but also of a South-South. In Latin America, 60% of migration occurs within the region; in Africa it is 75%, and now there is even a type of migration that is classified as cross-border.

The ability of migrants to participate in the economic, social, cultural and political life of their country of origin will depend on whether the country's laws allow it, and also on the motivation of the migrants themselves. In general, countries tend to make it possible for their émigrés to participate in different activities of this kind.

Political participation will depend on whether the country allows votes to be cast from abroad, as well as the issues on which this is allowed, and the requirements. For example, Algeria, Belarus, the United States, Ireland, Russia and Togo allow their emigrants to vote in legislative, presidential, and regional elections, as well as in national referenda. They are the broadest examples because the most common case is that voting from abroad is only allowed when electing national authorities. I do not have data on the average abstention rate amongst those with the right to vote from abroad. Regarding getting involved in the economic life of the country, it can be seen from two angles. The first relates to the opportunity and feasibility of getting directly involved. The second could be through family remittances, as an indirect way of contributing wealth that can affect the country's local economy. An interesting example can be found in sport when we find athletes representing their country of origin in the Olympics or world championships. On the other hand, we see Cuban athletes who have emigrated who are not allowed to compete representing our country, despite their interest in doing so. Or consider the case of the current US national chess team, none of whose members is North American.

The case of Cuba is somewhat unique, firstly for the reasons stated above. Without giving a number, or even saying it’s a majority, I can state that Cuban émigrés these days are more interested in participating in their country's life, motivated by a broad spectrum of reasons ranging from frustrated dreams to chasing professional opportunity and economic advantage. I would also dare to claim that the Cuban émigré’s interest in participating in Cuba's social, cultural and economic life is much greater than their interest in participating in political life. 

SUSANA CAMINO: Cubans are always interested in participating in the economic, cultural and social life of their country. Politically, there are Cubans who are in favor of the country's politics and there are others who are against it. Not all Cubans are in favor; and I would be a hypocrite if I said otherwise. I am someone who has to say things as I see them. There are Cubans who agree, others don't. But always, out of their great love for their country, their great love for Cuba, they try to cope with things, they try to contribute their grain of sand and juggle everything, and even support and contribute so that the country's economy continues to move forward, so that people have a little comfort, because that is what it is all about, that Cubans enjoy a sense of well-being, health, which is very important in these times, now with Covid-19, the Cuban's concern about how the family is doing, and I include myself in that group. We are glad that there is a fairly low death rate compared to many countries round the world. We are very happy that Cuba has this terrible virus under control, and that reassures us Cubans who have moved abroad, because we have our families in Cuba.

JESÚS ARBOLEYA: There is plenty of evidence of émigrés being interested in staying in contact and participating in Cuban national life. Both research and day-to-day experience indicate that the majority of people who emigrate are interested in these contacts, where the political component is not the main issue, instead focusing on ties to family, business or cultural exchange. However, how broad these contacts are and the level to which they are integrated into the national reality, depends on other variables, including Cuba's own policy-making. National pride is very important among Cubans and should be used to establish points of contact with migrants.

KAREL GARCÍA: How able and truly interested in participating in the country’s economic, social, cultural and political life is very personal. Some émigrés work so that they can invest in Cuba in lines of business that are within the law and they contribute to the development of the country by paying taxes, just like anywhere else in the world. It would be ideal if the majority could do this and wanted to.


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: Is it desirable to have emigrants integrated into the life of the nation? To what extent have the émigrés been involved in any real sense in Cuban life in recent years? Is that integration part of the national interest? If we think it should be possible, how can we do it? If there should be boundaries, what should they be?


JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: I see the future of Cuba intimately linked to the inclusion of émigrés in national life, although I don't know to what extent that integration may have increased in real terms in recent years as it's been more than three years since I have visited the island.

Whether or not that integration is in the national interest (I believe it is) depends on whoever determines the scope of that national interest. From the point of view of civic responsibility, instinctively I would say that it is a task in which all Cubans have to participate, at least those who actually want to participate (and not obstruct), and without that participation being restricted or conditioned by any of the various actors involved.

At the moment, the decision to facilitate this integration rests exclusively with the Cuban authorities. And I say exclusively because it is a decision that should put aside external pressures, such as the present hostile attitude of the United States towards Cuba, and focus, also exclusively, on the consensual search for that national interest with the contribution of all Cubans who feel that spirit of civic responsibility.

Or maybe, to put it another way, counting on the contribution of all Cuban migrants who are willing to walk the talk and play a part in the "Concert for Reunion and Brotherhood" that Rafael and I are going to organize. 

MANUEL GÓMEZ: Whether desirable or not, it is inevitable that émigrés will play a role in national life. Furthermore, they already play a large part, although that is not the same as integration. As it is inevitable, Cuba should do everything possible so that the part the migrants play, including those who integrate, is a contribution to the development of the country. I am thinking, for example, of possibilities such as creating a Ministry of Emigration, or at least a ministerial department or institute with more resources and trained personnel, to look for ways of enhancing that integration. It may also be possible to explore a tax structure on vacation properties, other investments made by emigrants, or remittances, but with resources explicitly and transparently directed to a fund for social provision (education, health, housing, etc.) so that both those who have emigrated and the people in Cuba see people coming back home to live in Cuba as a contribution to the country. I do not know if this is feasible, and, of course, different "types" of citizenships should be avoided. There should only be the one. 

YAN GUZMÁN: The progressive change that the political condition of the Cuban emigrant has experienced from 1959 to date makes their integration into Cuban life desirable. The Cuban emigrant has ceased to be the type of political exile from the early days of the Revolution, or the politically "disaffected" of the 70s and 80s, even the 90s, and has become that person who seeks an improvement in his or her economic circumstances, in most of the cases, through new job opportunities, or looking to join family members abroad, aware of the advantages that this can bring. Rather than just being an area of national interest, it should also be borne in mind that close to 30% of Cubans who live in Cuba have ties to a Cuban émigré, but this integration could be examined from a constitutional perspective, based on Jose Marti's proclamation "with all and for the good of all”, from which inclusion as a constitutional value is directly derived.

Inclusion is one of Jose Marti's values that has to gradually gain ground in Cuba, not only within the country, through discussion and the implementation of public policies promoting tolerance, acceptance of the other (both in the way of being and the way of thinking), but also it must allow us to look outside the island, in the sense of facilitating the inclusion of Cuban émigrés. It is necessary to satisfy the interests of the different parties.

This value connects and should connect Cuban émigrés more closely together - as it did back in history - at the same time as gradually conceding a set of rights and prerogatives that their compatriots have; they should be allowed to participate in national life, that is to say, in the affairs of the Cuban nation, which is also their nation. Today émigrés have become more involved in a variety of ways, the most obvious of which is cultural exchange, in both directions. Remittances are an indirect form of integration.

Integration will depend on political will. Although there have been signs, they are not very strong nor clear enough yet. I don't think it is just a matter of political will on the part of the Cuban State either, as there are other factors which influence.

Today the average age of Cubans who emigrate is lower relative to the rising age amongst the economically active population. These days, those emigrants have a set of tools and practices, which must be transmitted to economically empower the country. The question is how we do that. Firstly, by enabling the Cuban emigrant to participate in the economic life of the country, giving him incentives and trust, experimenting at the local level, can be a good start.

There are limits that have been accepted by international treaties and by different legal systems such as national security, public order, public health, social conduct or the rights and freedoms of others. Although they are listed, they are all subject to examination and, in the Cuban geopolitical context, how the rights and duties are understood may end up being an obstacle to the integration of emigrants into national life. 

SUSANA CAMINO: It is desirable for immigrants to integrate into national life. They are a small group and Cuban customs are well liked here in Europe. There is no particular national interest, but they are tolerated. Germany, for example, is a multicultural country. Cubans never lose their identity living in Europe, but they know how to respect the customs of other countries. Although we are talkative and love a party, we always know how to abide by the rules and laws that are in place here, which are totally different from in Cuba. We speak louder, we are more affectionate, we like to hug more. We show love more openly. We Cubans, without a hug, we turn off, we feel like we are nobody and we have seen that in Europe it is not like that. Europeans seem colder, people don't give each other hugs, but when a Cuban tries to show the love, customs and social behavior that he has brought from his roots, when he tries to show it here, people accept it and like it. Why wouldn't they? People try to make friends with the Cuban and the Cuban feels a little better and does not miss the island quite so much. Cubans miss Cuba very much when they leave her behind, so when they make friends with a European, they try to make them understand that we are warmer. And the Europeans generally accepts it in the end. 

JESÚS ARBOLEYA: We could say that Cuban policy towards migration has had, until now, two different phases from the qualitative point of view. A first phase of confrontation, rejection and absolute distancing, shaped by political conflict, and a second phase, which we could say came out of the Dialogue with the community in 1978, where a policy of acceptance and certain contacts was established. This is the policy that is currently in place, although with some steps forward and a few back. Everything indicates that the country is heading for a new qualitative change in the migration policy, which seeks to integrate the émigrés into the life of the country. Political, economic, social, even demographic reasons confirm this interest and justify its implementation, even though it will have some unwanted results, as can happen in any arena and is implicit in the changes that the country requires. 

KAREL GARCÍA: Integrating migrants into national life is highly desirable. In my opinion, exclusion only generates hatred and unnecessary disputes. Although there are many emigrants today who fill their stomachs with hate speech. This is an aberration generated from ignorance, to say the least. Denying your roots, and more so if it is through slander, is the most ungrateful act that a human being can commit. Personally, I repeat, it is as if I had never left. I know many similar cases; I am not the exception in that regard. I am sure that this sort of question about integration is in the national interest.


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: I’m now going to open up the floor to audience comment and questions.


RAFAEL BETANCOURT: The relationship between a group of individuals or a group of emigrants and their respective countries is dynamic, changing over the lifespan and through the history of each person and each country. In my case, my relationship with Cuba went from being almost non-existent during my early years as an emigrant child, to a desire to recover that relationship when, as a teenager, I decided I wanted to do that, to a total immersion when I resettled on the island, accompanied by a detachment from the country where I lived for so many years. And now, after a life split almost half-and-half between both countries, I maintain a close relationship with both, through personal and family, tastes and customs, but with different degrees of loyalty and different citizenship statuses. Over the course of successive waves of migration, Cuban migration has become similar to migration from other countries. That said, like in other countries, there has always been a mixture of reasons, whether they be political, economic, family or other factors, which have motivated Cubans to emigrate, perhaps at higher or lower rates at different stages in history. Nowadays the pattern of Cuban emigration is much more similar to that of other countries than it was sixty years ago. An important aspect which influences the level at which emigrants remain linked to national life is the amount of opportunity offered by the country of origin to exercise their participation, whether in the political, economic, social, or cultural spheres. The de jure or de facto policy of the government of each country towards emigration can encourage or block these ties. For example, can they participate in elections? Are they represented in national institutions and organizations? Can they invest in the economy, or contribute to social and cultural projects? Do they retain their right to free education and public health?

Lastly, we could look at how much Cuban culture and, more recently, sports have been enriched by continuous links and exchanges in recent years, which have blurred the boundaries between temporary and permanent residence abroad. If that happened in the field of economics, science, the liberal professions, academia, how much would the country benefit? With the economic limitations we face, how much could an injection of capital from emigrants, or openings to international markets, contribute. They could contribute to lifting the blockade or improving relations with other countries. Of course there have to be limits. This integration mustn't violate the principles or the bases of the Cuban system, the internal relations of political and economic power, nor threaten national security in its broadest sense.


CONSUELO MARTÍN: University of Havana. Thank you very much for your invitation to join this new format of Ultimo Jueves of Temas. The panelists' contributions were very interesting. Listening to them, I feel that there are at least two levels of simultaneous analysis; one at the level of the person and the other at the level of national government or its institutions. I would like to hear your reflections on where and how to place family ties, or what role they would have in the migratory process which we are discussing. How could we incorporate them from that perspective? Would it be at the geographical level; would it be at the level of associations? How do you think it could work?


CARLOS ALZUGARAY: UNEAC. My question is going to focus on one single aspect of the subject, which is Cuban emigration in South Florida and specifically in Miami. Some of the panelists have made mention of this phenomenon. It is a political phenomenon, basically because it has played a part, first as an instrument of and later by influencing US policy toward Cuba. It seems that the ideology that prevails in Miami and in South Florida is the right-wing ideology that wants the American government to solve the main problem that this group of migrants sees, which relates, in some way, to revenge, restitution, etc.  This seemed to be fading out. It seemed that little by little that ideology was changing, and in fact Obama changed it. However, recently there has been a knock-back, and the environment in Florida has become toxic again. Amaury Pérez Vidal was speaking about that the other day, in an interview with the TV network, Russia Today. He said that he saw things had now turned very bad and that is also how I also see it. My question would be basically to those who have experience about that - Arboleya, Gómez, José Manuel -: what is this due to? It seemed that in Obama's time the matter had been resolved. Do you think that there will be a solution someday? How could we establish a more rational relationship? 

JOSÉ FRANCISCO BELLOD: From Spain. I would like to pose a very direct question: is Cuban society ready for participation in its public affairs, in general, of Cuban-American citizens? I say this because when it comes to citizenship - I have been listening to the contributions from the panelists - there is a lot of emphasis on the issue of legal recognition, but social recognition is another issue. With regard to foreign citizens, Spanish law is very restrictive, but even with those foreign citizens who have the right to social and political participation, etc., the truth is that Spanish society, which is very conservative, prefers them to not participate. Foreign citizens with their immigration papers in order can participate in political parties, unions, neighborhood associations, parents' associations, etc., but there is an understanding that it is better for those citizens to refrain from exercising all their rights. In this case, contrary to what I have always heard, the law is ahead, despite being regressive, it is less regressive than the society itself. There is a lot of question over whether the Cuban legal framework is prepared for opening up to foreigners to fully take part. And what I am asking is: is Cuban society prepared for this?


RANDDY FUNDORA: From Salamanca. There are many authors and academics who speak of the concept of digital citizenship and of the changes in negotiating citizenship, of a transnational Cuba, of transnational spaces and spaces where citizenship is agreed through info-communicational platforms. My question is this. Do you believe that digital or info-communicational citizenship can be built or exercised or encouraged via the internet? And indeed, if so, where is Cuba at this point in time? Cuba, which has so many emigrants, which has this type of participation, how is it managing that? And whether the Cuban government is in any way also looking at that when it comes to drafting public policy or legislation in this area.


LUIS MARCELO YERA: Researcher. The Cuban Foreign Investment Law doesn't stop Cuban emigrants investing. However, although the existence of some negotiations has been made public, albeit without details, we have not heard of any specific project in this regard. Personally, I believe that a new high-level policy declaration from our own government should promote this to silence the government of the United States, where the biggest investments could come from. What does the panel think about that?


JULIO CÉSAR GUANCHE: Thank you for this space that is very useful, valuable, fruitful and interesting, as always, and even more now that you have found ways to keep it going despite the present circumstances we're living through. I have two minutes so I will be brief. I will make my questions concise.

My first question is for Manolo, Pallí, Yan and Arboleya. Citizenship can be seen from many different perspectives, as we know, and as you have written about and discussed here. There is one, which seems to me very strong, robust, which is the one that does not limit itself to considering citizenship only as a relationship based on rights and duties vis-à-vis the State, but also emphasizes that citizenship is an egalitarian ideal, which allows many policies based on that equality and that is also an active political practice. Reviewing the Cuban constitutions, from the nineteenth century until now, one gets an idea of how these three ideals, these three principles of citizenship are brought together in them, but I am going to concentrate only on the present constitution. It is very clear to me how rights and duties and the egalitarian ideal are recognized in this Constitution, but I have my opinions on how political participation of citizens is regulated with active practice. My question to you is, "What do you think of these mechanisms of direct participation and citizen self-organization, which are outlined in our current Constitution?"

My second question is for the same four panelists. What is needed at the legal level to recognize full national membership of migrants? I am thinking that they do not truly have it if there is still the two-year requirement to return to the country and that the figure of the “definitive departure” from the country lingers on - for example, in the Civil Code as grounds for keeping people from receiving an inheritance. So my question would be: What issues do we need to deal with, on one side and on the other, in what has been called “the Nation and the Emigration”, in recognizing that full citizenship, and what proposals do you have for working towards the recognition of that national citizenship for those living in Cuba and for migrants?

Another point I would like to put to Susana and Karel is the metaphor of the "hotch potch", the "ajiaco", which has been well-known in terms of national integration, ever since the 1930s, and the metaphor that Ambrosio Fornet used in the 1990s, of the Cuban culture as a "forked" culture, split between the Nation and the Emigration, but which was most prominent in Cuba. However, if we look at it in 2020, it seems necessary to recognize the Cuban nation as a transnational nation. Thinking of it in this way is different from thinking about the problems that the “ajiaco” sought to explain or even the problems that Fornet's “forked culture” tried to explain in his own way. My question is: What image would you come up with now to explain Cuban culture, and what do you see as necessary if we start to consider the idea of Cuba as a transnational nation?

My last question would be for everyone. I've bring to this shared space a friend of many of those who are participating here, Emilio Cueto, and who has said that it is essential to know each other to be able to understand each other, those of us on the island and those of us who live abroad. My question is rather one of a personal assessment: What do you think is known inside Cuba about the Cuba “outside”, and vice versa? Do you have any proposals for this knowledge resulting in greater understanding? 

GABRIEL VIGNOLI: Cuban and Italian citizen. University professor of International Relations in New York. Covid or coronavirus: five letters that, for me, change the focus of these questions. My comments are based on the use of this perspective. The virus is not only a threat, it is a vehicle for radical transformation that is altering global geopolitics, the link with the environment, the meaning of work –formal, informal–, and money –virtual, physical–, as well as the urban and rural fabric, and is driving a dramatic push to digital technology, in such a way that the argument over digital technologies will become even more important in the future of international and interpersonal relations. The semantic fields of words like development, well-being, sustainability and, of course, citizenship will change, among the many future-oriented words. We need new frameworks in which to think about citizenship in the face of the transformation imposed by Covid. What is certain is that, on the one hand, this will happen through the prejudices of each culture. On the other hand, those same prejudices will be radically revolutionized if they are flexible, or destroyed because they are too rigid and dogmatic. Covid imposes transformations in the way of being a citizen, in terms of lifestyle, consumption, and socialization. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the people, and what are the weaknesses of the State in this area? Covid makes us, at this time, radically contemporary with other cultures, economies and ways of understanding citizenship in different countries, and forces us, more than ever, to think about the country and citizenship going forward. The link between citizen, government and State is at stake on a global level. Citizenship is not a thing but a process. I do not believe that passive, bureaucratic-legal citizenship based on the passport and the right to vote is the key to creating the future. Nor do I think that citizens who look to the past, to the country as a source of civic responsibility, can cast any light for the future of the country. The key is active citizenship, which in my mind is the one exercised by the city, the culture of searching deeply, inventing, technological disobedience, direct intervention in technology and infrastructure of the city. That is the citizenship that is affected by social distancing, by scarcity and by uncertainty. It's an uncertainty that can and should produce new ways of seeing, being and thinking.

Descartes said "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think therefore I am). Today, when I am in Havana, my motto, which I believe is shared with many co-citizens is "Utor, ergo sum", (I use therefore I am). The homeland and the rights are here and now, in the immediacy of the present, both in Cuba and in the global south. According to data from the International Labor Organization we know that 90% of employment in the global south or in developing countries is informal. Covid is going to dramatically accelerate the process of casualization of labor, and the Cuban model - universal health, education and social rights - may be one answer. At the same time, Covid will rewrite the social contract between the people and the government in Cuba as in other countries of the world. How do you think that Covid is going to affect citizenship in Cuba? 

ARTURO LÓPEZ-LEVY: My first question relates to the subject of political discourse. How can we speak of citizenship for emigrants when, from the official discourse, the relationship with them is understood from the concept of "nation and emigration", where emigration is situated outside the nation? My second question refers to the relationship between the project of citizenship and the relationship between the government and its citizens, and the international instruments of the so-called model of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What role do human rights agreements signed by the Cuban government play in adopting the government-citizen relationship paradigm?


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: Many thanks. That's the last of the interventions from the participants, and we'll now return to the panelists. We can do it in the same order in which the questions were posed, if that's ok with everybody, in which case we could start with José Manuel Pallí.


JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: Thank you very much, Rafael, although I am willing to hand over the first response to Susana, who, being in Germany, must be falling asleep by now.


RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ: OK, so we’ll hear from Susana.


SUSANA CAMINO: Thank you very much, José, thank you. I am very grateful and also very impressed with how this has gone, because as citizens, Covid is going to change us a lot. I told Rafael that I am going to answer things, as it is my first time, from my point of view. I think that now with Covid we are seeing many changes as citizens, because we have to totally change our lives. It sounds sad, it sounds negative, but it is the truth. This is only beginning in Cuba, compared to Germany. In Germany we are going into our sixth week of lockdown, and what I have seen is that I, along with many others, have had to work, to work remotely, to be at home juggling everything we do and how we do it. Everything is now being paid with invisible payments. I don't know how long it is since, for example, I've bought anything with a twenty euro note in my hand, because "indirectly" they are already asking us to pay for everything by card or to make a transfer every time we go to pay for something or to order something. I also see that everything is now online and is like a ghost lurking in the background. What will happen in the next few months? We don't know here, but I think that the issue of citizenship at this time, I think that as a result of the Covid-19 many things are going to change, both our behavior, our professional activity, also our way of seeing many political sectors, and we are also going to be more reasonable, which is what we really need in order to continue living a few more years with this situation, because this is not going to end tomorrow.


JOSÉ MANUEL PALLÍ: I am basically very much in agreement and very impressed by almost everything I have heard. Regarding what Mr. Betancourt said, his observations and expectations regarding what we Cubans should promote regarding the integration of the entire Cuban family, wherever they live, seem very valid to me. It seems to me that, unfortunately, right now this currently depends exclusively on the decisions made in Cuba. I agree completely with my friend Guanche when he says that the Cuban aleph resides in Cuba. Telling ourselves the story outside Cuba, especially in the United States, that the solutions to what is going to happen or not going to happen in Cuba pass through us, acting through some legal entity from another foreign government, which is what we have here, has always seemed pretty absurd to me and it still does.

I’m trying to go back to respond to the comments in order but if I do that I let go of the microphone and can’t keep track so I’m just going to go through my notes.

I am also impressed by Professor Vignoli’s words. I think the same, that Covid-19 is a great opportunity, despite how dramatic it is. The problem is that I think it is still too early to speculate, although one would like it to be as Vignoli describes it. What will be the ultimate outcome of all of this? As for how  Cuba will fair in this, my impression is that Cuba has the tools and has always had them, to handle this type of situation, more easily than in countries where, for example, the role of the State in the lives of citizens in minimized, commercial interest is prioritized, above all personal interest, which is what we call here “Looking out for Number One”, which pervades the way people are educated, nothing is done for the common good, everything is driven by private interests which are channeled and sorted out via mechanisms such as the free market. It is a story, a fantasy that, unfortunately, many people still believe.

Regarding the question that Carlos Alzugaray put to those of us who live in the United States, in South Florida, I believe - and I also answer the economist's question - that talking about investments in Cuba, and changes to the US Cuba policy, is a waste of time while we still have the restrictions embodied and entrenched in the embargo (or the “globargo”, as my friend Tony Zamora called it). As long as that remains, and it's enshrined in US national law, I don't see any chance to end it soon. It is a great shame, and to some extent a disgrace, that the previous president, who made the gesture of opening up in December 2014, had not done so before, but that gives us an idea of how difficult it is to do those things from here, and if he didn't do it before, it is because of the limits imposed on American politicians by a frankly decadent political and social system, and which I'm afraid, given I have children and grandchildren born here, is in on the verge of collapse. Can we trust that this system will can change, and maybe take on a different approach toward such an insignificant subject - because Cubans sometimes deceive ourselves and think that this is more important than it is? The rest of the country thinks of Cuba once every … I don't know, maybe once every hundred years–. You have to be realistic and I think that the emphasis must be put on what Cuba can do from Cuba, including taking stock of the progress it has made, opening up citizenship opportunities or even the treatment of citizens who are resident abroad, if we want to define them that way, in a faster, more flexible manner, enabling the integration of all these groups.

Thank you for inviting me, thanks for letting me participate and I am here for whatever you need. 

MANUEL GÓMEZ: To respond to Alzugaray, I would say that the toxic political climate that exists in Miami, is not only in Miami, it is throughout the country, and it manifests itself in the Miami area with the Cuba issue, especially in the press and the media, the radio and television, because they are right-wing or they are afraid of the right-wing, or they are highly influenced by the right-wing. And Cubans live in that environment, in that toxic air that exists, not only throughout the country, but in Miami in particular. And yes, in the future it can change, and I think it will change, partly for the same reasons as it changed with Obama, which was that the mindset of the far-right immigrants started to lose ground with the arrival of migrants much more typical of the Caribbean.

To Marcelo, my comment is that we cannot forget that the United States, American law, prohibits or greatly hinders any investment that Cuban-Americans may want to make, and that is why the investments that are taking place are informal and therefore, in a certain sense, illegal. As I said in my presentation, the Cuban-American investor carries his capital in his pockets, and until that changes, it will be very difficult to increase investment, because this will need to be sorted out before the likes of the Fanjul brothers invest. 

YAN GUZMÁN: I believe that the role of the family is important in relation to migration. There's a reason family unification is one of the most important factors that decide this process, this movement, this dynamic of migration. The Constitution is clear, Article 81 says that the State recognizes and protects families, however they are organized, as a fundamental unit in society, and creates the conditions to guarantee that they are fully enabled. It's the State's job to find a way, not just promoting the physical reunification of families, of people who go and live in another country, mainly the United States. There are also ways we could facilitate family reunification in Cuba by creating spaces for enabling this. We will have to find that type of mechanism.

In relation to Randdy Fundora's question about the issue of digital or info-communicational citizenship, steps have been taken in Cuba towards e-gov strategies, which in my opinion are still in their infancy. But first things first. I believe, in other words that as the emigrant exercises a set of rights, then it will be necessary to find ways and means for that migrant to participate. In the case of voting from abroad, one of the ways that some countries use is electronic voting, postal voting, in order to encourage political participation. There are also investment mechanisms, creating centers and, for example, one-stop shops, which is the name that we give a center focused on attracting investment, which could also be created; some countries already have them. It is necessary to remove a number of bureaucratic obstacles that also get in the way of Cuban émigrés wherever they are.

In relation to Guanche's question - let me take this opportunity to say hello and send my warm regards - I imagine that Guanche is also thinking about Ecuador, above all, with this proposal of the legislative initiative of the 2008 Constitution regarding Ecuadorians emigrants abroad. Likewise, in terms of direct democracy mechanisms, we also have to resolve a number of problems internally so that these mechanisms are actually effective. It is clear that we cannot wait. I believe that little by little, to the extent that we commit to that integration, which in my opinion is going to be progressive to the extent that the Revolution, the revolutionary process, continues to consolidate, will become something normalized. What happens is that there is an expectation, a need, a certain urgency, but I think it is a progressive process. My position is clear. For me, first I would be in favor of involvement of émigrés in the local economic arenas, initially as an experiment., I think I said previously; at some point we would need to find out the political cost of political participation. We especially fall in love with political efficiency, and we have to fall a bit out of love with it and gradually let the emigrants also participate in our processes. 

SUSANA CAMINO: Remember that there are two types of Cubans, or there may be three, if we take account of the Miami issue. There are Cubans who were born there and only know English, there are Cubans from the far right, as somebody mentioned here earlier. This group is recalcitrant, there's no discussing with them, and there are others who voice a little more reason. You can discuss with them, and reach an agreement between the two countries, but overall they're not all from the far right.

So we would have to see if the migrants - because I could be a possible emigrant - can enjoy all the rights as citizens, and also have 24-hour internet as I have here. I believe that is one of the first things a citizen has to have. Because remember that as a result of Covid-19, which is going to stay with us for the entire year, they're saying. without the Internet we are nothing here. And look, now we are on a virtual panel via the internet. The Internet is going to be with us for the rest of our lives, because everything is like this now; so that's part of citizenship. 

YAN GUZMÁN: I want to add a little more to my response, especially on the subject of full rights for émigrés. Guanche, I believe that this needs to be dealt with at a legal level. I believe that the 2022 Immigration bill must go a step forward with respect to full citizenship for migrants along with the modifications that this is going to require in the different Cuban legislative bodies, especially on the issue of inheritance, because the issue of property rights plays an important role, and it is clear that we have not yet resolved the subject of nationalizations, and it is something that lingers on, cooling off, heating up, but if we continue to add fuel to the fire, so that people lose the little they have had because they emigrate, especially in a country where wealth, such as housing, cannot be accumulated … I believe that we are not taking a step forward in this regard. It is something that needs to be reviewed.

With regards to the subject proposed by our friend Cueto, I think that the popular imaginary on both sides is very misrepresented. In general, the Cuban here imagines another Cuban who has emigrated as different, someone they cannot understand, and vice versa. Cuban émigrés, even the children of Cuban émigrés, perceive their countrymen differently. I think, of course, the idea of being able to communicate, of being able to meet each other, of being able to travel, of being able to understand each other, is going to help a little, but it is a process that still, without a doubt, takes time. 

RAFAEL HERNÁNDEZ Having arrived at this point in the afternoon, and with the end of the downpour in the city of Havana, we have completed this extraordinary feat, the challenge of putting together, thanks to all of you, a socially-distant debate on Ultimo Jueves, but it was at least as good or even better than many of those we have done in person. I know that you all have many more things you could add and that we could talk for hours on the subject of how to connect the issue of migration with Cuba's foreign relations. I also know that the legal challenge, related to citizenship, whether or not it is linked to the issue of migration, is also an almost endless web through which we could continue weaving. This panel has allowed us to grapple with problems relating to society, politics, the law, culture, and finally, the culture of civic responsibility amongst the people, which is what citizen status and our current times have, ultimately, to express.

I want to thank the panelists who have produced these complex presentations, both in text and audio, and I want to thank Susana, Bellod, who are now at midnight or later in their countries and who have still been paying attention and contributing actively. To all those who are listening to us on the other side of the Atlantic, and, of course, to all the participants who are “over there” and “over here” and elsewhere, preparing this rich material, which we are going to circulate in the same way that we always do with all the Ultimo Jueves debates. Of course, for a Ultimo Jueves to go well it must have participation, and this substantial, focused participation, which has considered many angles and has involved people from different generations, I think it is like a crystallization of the best of a Ultimo Jueves, and for that reason, we really are very proud that the entire team of Temas has undertaken to achieve this. I am not going to name them all because there are going to be some that I will miss, but I want to thank Enrique, Vani, Disamis, Willy, who are here, and the rest of the team that has been really focused and helped us to make this event happen. Thank you very much for your attendance and contribution to this event, which will undoubtedly be of value to many people in relation to this topic that continues to be of the utmost importance for Cuba.


Translation: Jackie Cannon


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