Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2018 — Ana Gálvez, now 72, spent eight months picking sweet potatoes, yuccas and squash in a state agricultural enterprise outside of Havana before she was allowed to leave for the United States in 1971.
“They treated us as if we were prisoners or slaves. The food was disgusting. We had to work twelve or thirteen hours a day. Then, it was the only way that the dictatorship would sign the ’freedom card’,” recalled Gálvez, with tears in her eyes, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Miami, a stone’s throw from the international airport.
In Florida, she became an executive with a renewable energy firm and today has as storehouse of knowledge that could help in the future reconstruction of the Cuban energy sector.
“Cuba has all the conditions necessary to stop using fossil fuels in a decade or less. Based on the sun, the winds and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea — because the rivers are not very large — the Island would have clean and sustainable energy that would contribute to its development. To this we could add the use of hybrid transport, running on electricity or cane alcohol,” said Ana optimistically.
But when I asked her, “if the laws changed would you return to rebuild the country?” she emphatically shook her head, No. “It would have to be with certain requirements, among them a public apology from the regime for its deplorable attitude towards the Cubans who one day decided to emigrate and live in a democracy. It is the first thing I would demand to return and work for my country. ”
Given the current dilemma of Cuba, trapped in a stagnant economic crisis, chronically unproductive, with brakes on private work and the creation of small- and medium-sized businesses, with social tension due to the poor administration of resources, along with a housing deficit exceeding one million homes, a low birth rate, an accelerated aging of the population, miserable salaries and a qualitative decline of education and public health, an honorable exit would be forge an agreement with the diaspora and, using the skills and talents of everyone, begin to rebuild the foundations of the national economy.
Exiles like Ana Gálvez or the famous musician and composer Jorge Luis Piloto, who, in order to emigrate from Cuba, had to accept the regime’s degrading treatment, deserve an apology. And there are others whom Fidel Castro expelled from their homeland for thinking differently and opposing the state of affairs.
Miami, Autumn 2014. While Jorge Luis Piloto in his Mercedes Benz was traveling with me to the new Marlins baseball stadium through the tunnel built after the expansion of the port, I asked him, too, if certain conditions were met would he return to reform his country. The answer was not immediate. He kept driving, concentrating on the traffic.
In the 70s, Piloto lived with his mother in a small room with a makeshift platform “mezzanine,” a bathroom and collective kitchen in a building in danger of collapse in the Pilar neighborhood, in Havaa’s Cerro municipality. The authorities did not consider him a “reliable” guy: he wore his hair long, he always carried a guitar in his hand and was a lover of the Beatles.
He had arrived in the capital at age 15 from Cárdenas, Matanzas. And although in Havana one of his own song’s won an award in the Adolfo Guzmán Competition, in 1980 he decided to leave with the Mariel Boatlift.
Fidel Castro, offensively, called the more than 125,000 Cubans who emigrated through the Port of Mariel that year “scum.” Earlier, he had called those who left “worms.” In 1980, that terrible year, the neo-fascist acts of repudiation emerged. Popular mobs harassed you, shouting all kinds of offenses and slander, they threw eggs at you and more than one person beat you.
Piloto experienced it first hand. After pondering his response to my question he told me that he had no plans to return, but if one day Cuba bet on democracy, he would help in any way he could. Recently, in a card for the new year, Jorge Luis wrote: “In 2018 may we can travel to Cuba without asking for permission and with a process on the way to democratization, but with social justice for all. The Cuba that [José] Martí dreamed of.”
Every time I’ve been in Miami, I’ve chatted with numerous compatriots. Most have good jobs and have built successful careers. I ask them all the same question: would you return to rebuild Cuba?
Ninety-five percent, after explaining their reasons, answer No. Journalists like Osmín Martínez and Iliana Lavastida, who have managed to turn a boring conservative newspaper like Diario Las América into an attractive medium, do not have plans to return to Cuba either.
Only those politically committed confessed that they would leave everything behind and return to rebuild the land where they, their parents and grandparents were born. This is the case for the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero.
Almost all of the Cubans who have triumphed in Miami would help from a distance. A praiseworthy thing, but in a de-capitalized nation like Cuba today, it feels like very little. Because the country will need more than professional and financial help and powerful infrastructure investments. It will also need labor. People with experience in sectors such as construction and architecture: with few exceptions, everything built in Cuba over the last sixty years has been built badly.
It will also require people with knowledge in public administration, democratic political institutions, specialists in education, agriculture, telecommunications and other technical and scientific branches.
It is probably the best option — perhaps the only one — to involve the olive-green dictatorship. Negotiate with the emigration, especially the one with the most economic power. Open, without conditions, the doors back to their homeland. Stop treating emigrated Cubans as just a source of remittances and encourage them to participate in the national reconstruction.
Despite the triumphalist discourse of the regime, the ship is taking on water. It would be a crime to let it end up sinking without trying to find solutions.
Nobody is more interested in the fate of Cuba than Cubans. Although those who left do not want to return to stay.