Dry or Wet? Thinking with our Feet / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 17 January 2017 — The announcement of the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which gave Cuban immigrants the special privilege of remaining in the US without being deported, just by touching American soil, ended Thursday, 12 January 2017, like a cold drizzle on the citizens of this island who had hoped for a better life in that country, using any illegal way to attain it.

As is often the case among Cubans, this decision by President Barack Obama just eight days before his departure from the White House has uncovered emotions. The issue, without a doubt, has dramatic implications, not only for those who are stranded on the migratory route from the most dissimilar geographical points of the planet or the Florida Straits, but also for those who have gone, leaving behind a family that would join them “afterwards,” or for those who have sold all their properties in Cuba with the fixed goal of reaching their American dream, facing the risks of an unpredictable journey at the mercy of human trafficking networks that have become a lucrative business for not a few gangs of delinquents of the region.

The cold rain of the sudden news was followed by the acid rain of those who release their resentment and frustration against the outgoing American president and accuse him of being a great service to the Castro regime. Of course, the main critics of Obama’s new stance are the same ones who have been opposed from the outset to the policy of rapprochement and the reestablishment of relations between both governments. “Castro won,” “the regime got away with it,” “another gift for the dictatorship” are some of the diatribes directed at the president less than a year after he stole Cubans’ esteem during his visit to Havana.

Could it be that in the no less cruel dilemma of “wet” or “dry” that has prevailed for more than 20 years, Cubans have ended up thinking “with their feet”?

It is appalling that the children of this land feel gifted with some divine grace that makes them deserve exceptional gifts and prerogatives just because they were blessed by being born in this miserable fiefdom. It is obvious that we need a good dose of humility and common sense.

However, putting aside the undeniable human impact surrounding the fact, it is necessary to assess it rationally. As much as we pity the broken dreams of so many fellow citizens, the truth is that the existence of a privileged policy for Cuban immigrants above those of other countries in the world – including people fleeing from nations at war or wherever there are living situations of extreme violence – is not justified in any way.

The pretense that Cubans, unlike other Latin Americans, deserve differential treatment because they are living under the boot of a dictatorship, collapses before the unquestionable evidence that only a very small portion of those fleeing may be classified as being under true political persecution. That is an irrefutable truth.

The huge expenditures by the public treasury of that country for assistance in food and other benefits to Cuban immigrants has an effect on the pockets of the American taxpayer, including Cubans already residing in the United States. Add to that the Coast Guard’s expense for patrolling the Florida Straits, the rescue of rickety vessels at risk of shipwreck and other expenses associated with the constant Cuban migration with its extraordinary franchises.

It is illogical that those who criticize – with reason – the preposterous costs of the Cuban dictatorship in marches, mobilizations and war games, as well as in gifts to its followers, at the expense of the depressed national coffers, assume that a foreign government has to squander its wealth on us.

As if this were not enough, those thousands of Cubans who, upon their U.S. arrival declare that they are under political persecution or at risk of being repressed if they are sent back, return to visit Cuba [one year + one day] as soon as they obtain their residence (green card), in what constitutes a real mockery to the American authorities, the institutions of the country that offered them asylum and support, and the taxpayers who have covered those expenses.

That’s why the winners across this Obama ball toss are Americans, ultimately the most legitimate beneficiaries of their government’s policies.

Furthermore, what other gift has Obama made to Castro? It remains to be determined what the previous gifts have been and how much they have favored the regime. None of the measures approved by the US administration in the last two years has resulted in the exuberant and swift benefits expected to be obtained by the Castro regime.

In any case, we are the ones who have given almost sixty years of our lives to the longest dictatorship in the Western world.

In practice, far from gaining any profit from the elimination of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, the Cuban regime initially lost an important outlet to relieve domestic pressure and increase family remittances. It also loses the mockery and ridiculous argument that this policy was the main stimulus for emigration from the island. Because, without a doubt, Cubans’ incessant fleeing will continue until the socioeconomic and political reality in Cuba has changed.

Another consequence of Castro’s alleged “victory” is that, when the “stimulus” of the US government’s special immigration policy toward Cuban illegal immigrants ceases, the regime will be forced to respond to the region’s governments for the crisis created by thousands of immigrants stuck in several countries in their journey to the U.S. Cuba has not yet rendered them any assistance, leaving that responsibility and its costs to the other countries’ governments. It’s time to finally reveal who the real villain of this story is.

Thus, once again, the emperor is standing on the roof wearing no clothes. There is no longer any excuse to place the blame on the United States. The regional political cost for the immigration stampede through our neighboring countries, or for the latter to guarantee the care and security of the Cuban émigrés while they blast the evil neighbor to the north with accusations.

But before the new reality that is beginning, the proverbial self-pity of Cubans continues betting on the political and material solution of our national evils outside our geographical limits. Thus, they believe that it is the obligation of other governments to resolve what is our problem. The embarrassment of others is felt by the eternal cadre of the “poor little Cubans,” who are so brave that they face the dangers of the sea and the jungles – sometimes irresponsibly dragging their young children through such an uncertain adventure – but so cowardly in reality, when the time comes to demand their rights from the regime that is the original cause of the problem.

If they were not so busy contemplating their navels, perhaps some political analysts would discover the possibilities that will open up a push for our rights inside Cuba.

In its official statement, that metaphysical entity that calls itself “the revolutionary government” has announced that it will “gradually adopt other measures to update the current emigration policy.” It would be good if, at least once, Cubans inside the Island and those abroad would join their forces and their willpower to make use of these “measures.”

That is to say, if it’s OK for Cubans to get equal treatment vis-a-vis other citizens of the world, if it’s believed that there are no special reasons to offer differential treatment to Cubans who emigrate illegally in the future, going forward there is no justification for the differentiation that the regime makes between Cubans who reside in Cuba and those who reside outside the country.

Because, since the dictatorship is patting itself on the back that “going forward, the same procedures will be applied to Cuban citizens who are detected in this situation” they will apply “the same procedures and immigration rules as the rest of émigrés from other countries,” then the moment has also come for the exceptionality in the treatment of the Cuban émigrés on the part of the regime to end, and their rights to be recognized.

More directly, this is an opportunity that requires the olive green gerontocracy to recognize, without further delay, equal rights for all Cubans, regardless of their country of residence, to enter and leave Cuba whenever, without a timeframe, with complete freedom – which implies eliminating the absurd and unjustified two-year “permit” – respecting the right to maintain their property in Cuba, setting the same cost for Cuban passports for Cuban residents as for those who live abroad, for emigrants to have the ability to invest in their country of origin preferentially over foreign investors, to be able to choose and take part in all matters that have to do with national life, and so on.

There is nothing to lose, on the contrary. It may still be a long stretch to recover our rights as Cubans; but if we decide to demand them instead of whining or begging third parties for them, at least we will have regained our dignity.

Translated by Norma Whiting