Tension in the Debate on the Book ‘Cuban Privilege’, But No Blood Was Spilled

Gutiérrez-Boronat pointed out that he had come to defend “the truth of the Cuban struggle” and was pleased that the professor was willing to discuss her premises and receive criticism. (Collage) 

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 DecemberThe controversial book Cuban Privilege (Cambridge University Press, 2022) – about US immigration policies towards Cuba – by American academic Susan Eckstein, was presented this Friday at Florida International University (FIU). The event included comments from the author and journalist Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat and the moderation of Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute of the FIU.

The event, Duany said, “has attracted considerable interest from the community and the media.” The professor considered it necessary to clarify the role of the FIU in organizing events of this type, which consists of “dissemination of knowledge about Cuba and its diaspora,” in addition to creating a “space for the open discussion of ideas in a safe and respectful way.”

As the author of a Cuban-themed book, the FIU considered that Eckstein – despite the fact that her opinions could be “controversial” – was capable of motivating a debate on a controversial aspect of Cuban reality.

He also pointed out that, in the past, the FIU has invited numerous dissidents and organizations opposed to the Cuban government. However, he clarified, in none of the cases, should the opinions of the speakers be considered as official points of view of the institution or its faculty.

He added that the institution expected the audience to behave with “decency” and ensure “civilized discussion.”

Professor Susan Eckstein had twenty minutes to present the main ideas of her book. She said “I had studied the Cuban issue for quite some time,” as well as migratory movements from the Island to the US. “My text is completely focused on US policies,” she insisted, although that also implies explaining the causes and consequences of these policies and, of course, defining Cuban-American influence in Miami.

Eckstein concentrated on providing data on the measures implemented by different US presidents – although regulated by Congress – starting in 1959 and describing their effect on the growing Cuban immigration in his country.

One of the most controversial ideas mentioned by Eckstein was the questioning of the status of “refugees in the US” of Cuban migrants. According to the academic, the US government doubted, at least since 1980 – with the Administration of President Jimmy Carter – that Cubans could fit into a legal situation of political asylum.

This leads, Eckstein suggests, to a systematic review of migration policies and the benefits received by Cubans, which, as her book states, other migrants have not enjoyed. Those benefits were “an instrument of US foreign policy during the Cold War,” she concluded.

As of today, Eckstein calculated, “there are at least ten Cuban-Americans in Congress,” for which the community should be “proud,” she said, to a standing ovation from the public.

However, she regretted, while Cubans can quickly request asylum, other Latin American migrants cannot claim this reason to reside permanently in the US. Due to time constraints, the academic was unable to finish her argument.

The writer and journalist Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, charged with the academic counterpoint with Eckstein, indicated that he came to defend “the truth of the Cuban struggle.” He was pleased that the professor was willing to discuss her premises and receive criticism, and announced that he would comment on what, in his opinion, is the essential postulate of the book: “Cubans have been considered as refugees despite the fact that what is at risk is not your life, it’s your lifestyle.”

Gutiérrez-Boronat said that the book was written from an “ideological prejudice” of the author. This bias jeopardizes the credibility of Eckstein’s arguments, he opined.

The Cuban listed the misconceptions on which Eckstein bases her arguments, such as the idea that the Cuban regime is based on “altruistic values” or that it is not a totalitarian government. He pointed out the omissions, in the text, of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps, the surveillance of State Security, the torture and executions, and many other examples of repression.

“These are not ’low moments’ of the revolution, as the professor affirms, but rather they were there from the beginning,” says Gutiérrez-Boronat. Finally, he criticized the accusation of drug trafficking attributed by Eckstein to the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and described it as “serious.”

“We continue dreaming of a free Cuba,” said Gutiérrez-Boronat, to which the audience reacted with great applause. At the end of the interventions, Professor Duany announced that it was time for the public to present their questions.

The president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, Rafael Montalvo, congratulated the Cuban community attending the presentation for respecting the nature of the debate. “That’s how it’s done,” he affirmed, while slogans of “Down with communism!” “Homeland and Life!” and “Cuba libre!” were repeated with greater emphasis at the end of the event.

The journalist Ninoska Pérez accused Eckstein, during her presentation, of “being distracted by defending the communist regime in Cuba.” “For you, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are still heroes, and that is insulting,” she said.

Eckstein defended herself against some of the public comments, saying they were “offensive and off-topic.” “This is supposed to be a book launch,” she lamented. “I am also the daughter of refugees,” said the teacher, “I understand the pain they have gone through.”

Some attendees congratulated Eckstein and Gutiérrez-Boronat for holding the event despite extensive criticism and pressure from various activists in Miami. The conversation, which was to be held at the Books & Books bookstore in Coral Gables, had to be moved to the larger FIU facilities. At that very moment, in the vicinity of the university, a group of Cuban-Americans carried out a protest – called for weeks – against the presentation of Cuban Privilege.


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