Cuban Homecomings: Raul Castro’s New Business / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida,14 September 2015 — Homecomings are a big business.

The same problems can often be seen in different cities, states and regions, but comparable solutions to those problems often yield very different results.

Convincing certain people to travel or return to Cuba — whether it be for family, vacation, work or out of sexual desire — is yet another obvious strategy by the government of Raul Castro. It amounts to a kind of de-marketing campaign intended, among other things, to capture people’s attention and enhance its image by using us to its advantage while downplaying the significance of exile.

I cannot blame Cubans who want to come home, even after having been oppressed by a government which deprived them of their status as Cubans. This is normal. But using public opinion, advertising and media to encourage the return of “Cubans who in some way can have a significant impact the political, social or economic environment” has become a government priority.

A controversial article published recently in Granma included an official announcement that Cuban doctors who have left the country or abandoned their medical missions abroad may, if they so desire, return to Cuba and to guaranteed jobs in the national health system under conditions similar to those they previously had.

It is an old but effective strategy. The trick is in distinguishing between the various people or groups the government wants to attract. With respect to health care professionals, if doctors choose not to return to work, the measure will have a boomerang effect in a country with an unstoppable brain drain and a shortage of trained specialists.

While it is a problem that shows up in different cities, states and regions, comparable solutions often yield very different results. In the 1980s, for example, more than half a million Chinese were studying in other countries. After the Chinese government instituted a new policy, nearly a third of them returned home. It was a program that was direct and aggressive. After identifying more than 70,000 Chinese living abroad, it contacted them with offers of short-term visits back to China as well as opportunities for repatriation. In some cases it even made them feel like “privileged citizens,” with the promise of financial incentives to “start afresh at home.” In mid-2001 Uruguay instituted a similar program in hopes of luring back its educated emigrés, though without the same results.

Some time ago the Cuban government launched an “incubation” program. Its aim was to send the children and some acolytes of the country’s top leaders to study overseas, including the United States, in fields related to technology and business. I do not want to name names for fear of starting a witch hunt, but let’s just say they are young and, though in no way implicated in the misdeeds of their family members, well-indoctrinated. Essentially, they are being prepared — I don’t know if it is correct to say “repaired” — to  have a valid role in the national economy upon their return.

The most sensitive, or rather the most vulnerable, aspect of this strategic program — one which strikes me as being potentially more costly than the ramshackle Juragua nuclear plant — is the government’s inability to offer these kids working conditions and salaries attractive enough to motivate them to return to the island, where they can only enjoy the epicurean pleasures of their former lives, once they have graduated. Their priorities have changed.