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martes, enero 25, 2011


A conversation with Yoani Sanchez

French journalist and expert in relations between Cuba and the United States recently interviewed Cuba blogger Yoani Sanchez in Havana. The interview was posted on Rebelion website and on Cubadebate website. Next up, we bring you the Fourth and last part of that conversation, translated into English.

Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban Adjustment Act and migration

SL: What do you think about Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA agent and responsible for a large amount of crimes in Cuba and whom the United States refuses to trial?

YS: It’s a political issue people are not interested in. It’s a smokescreen.

SL: At least it interests the relatives of the victims. What’s your point of view in this regard?

YS: I don’t like violent actions.

SL: Do you condemn his terrorist acts?

YS: I condemn all terrorist acts, event those committed today in Iraq by a alleged Iraqi resistance that kills Iraqis.

SL: Who kills most Iraqis, the attacks of the resistance or the US bombings?

YS: I don’t know.

SL: A word about the Cuban Adjustment Act that stipulates that Cubans legally or illegally migrating to the United States automatically get the status of permanent resident.

YS: It’s an advantage the rest of the countries don’t enjoy. But the fact that Cubans seek to migrate to the United States is due to the fact that here the situation is difficult.

SL: And also the United States is the richest country in the world. There are also many Europeans immigrantsthere. You admit that the Cuban Adjustment Act is a wonderful tool of incitement to legal and illegal emigration.

YS: It is, indeed, a factor of incitement.

SL: Don’t you see it as a tool to destabilize society and the government?

YS: In this case we can also say that the fact of giving the Spanish citizenship to descendants of Spaniards born in Cuba is a destabilizing factor.

SL: That’s beside the point, since there are historic reasons for that and besides Spain applies this law to all Latin American countries and not only to Cuba, while the Cuban Adjustment Act is unique in the world.

YS: Yes, but there are strong relations. Baseball is played both in Cuba and in the United States.

SL: And also in the Dominican Republic and there’s no Dominican Adjustment Act.

YS: There is, however, a tradition of rapprochement.

SL: Then, why wasn’t this law approved before the Revolution?

YS: Because Cubans didn’t want to leave their country. At that time, Cuba was a country of immigration and not of emigration.

SL: It’s absolutely false, because in the 1950’s Cuba already ranked second among Latin American countries in terms of the number of migrants to the United States, only after Mexico. Cuba sent more emigrants to the United States than all of Central America and South America together, while today Cuba only occupies the 10th position, in spite of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the economic sanctions.

YS: Maybe, but that obsession of leaving the country did no exist.

SL: Figures show the opposite. Nowadays, I repeat, Cuba only occupies the 10th position in the American continent in terms of migratory emission to the United States. Then, the obsession you’re talking about is stronger in at least nine countries of the continent.

YS: Yes, but at that time Cubans left and returned.

SL: It’s the same things today, since every year Cubans abroad return to spend their vacation here. In addition, before 2004 and before the restrictions imposed by President Bush that limited the trips of Cubans from the US to 14 days every three years, Cubans constituted the minority in the United States that traveled more often to their country of origin, much more than Mexicans, for example, which shows that the vast majority of Cubans in the United States are economic émigrés and not political exiles, since they return to their country for visiting, something a political exile wouldn’t do.

YS: Yes, but ask them if they want to stay to live here again.

SL: But that’s what you did, right? Besides, in July, 2007, you wrote in your blog that your case was not an isolated one. And I quote: “Three years ago [...] in Zurich [...], I decided to return to my country to stay. My friends thought I was joking; my mother refused to accept that her daughter no longer lived in the Switzerland of milk and chocolate.” On August 12, 2004, you showed up before immigration authorities in Havanato explain your case. You wrote: I was surprised when they told me to mark in line, in the queue of ‘those who return’ [...]. So I found, all of a sudden, other ‘crazy people’ like I, each of them with his or her gruesome story of return.” Then, this phenomenon of returning to the country exists.

YS: Yes, but these are people who return for personal reasons. There are some who had debts abroad, others who couldn’t stand living abroad. Well, dozens of reasons.

SL: Then, in spite of difficulties and daily vicissitudes, life is not that terrible here, since some return. Do you think that Cubans have too much of an idyllic vision of life abroad?

YS: That’s due to the propaganda of the regime, which presents life abroad too negatively and that has caused the opposite effect on the people, who have overly idealized the western way of life. The problem is that, in Cuba, emigration for more than eleven months is definitive, when one could live two years abroad and return for a while and then leave again, etc.

SL: Then, if I understand correctly, the problem in Cuba is rather of an economic nature, since people want to leave the country to improve their standard of living.

YS: Many would like to travel and then be able to return but migratory laws don’t allow them. I’m sure that if that were possible many people would emigrate for two years, and then they would return to leave again and return, etc.

SL: There were interesting comments about it in your blog. Several émigrés spoke about their disappointments with respect to the western way of living.

YS: That’s very human. You fall in love with a woman and three months later you lose your enthusiasm. You buy a pair of shoes and two days later you don’t like them any more. Disappointments are part of human nature. The worst thing is that people can’t return.

SL: But people return.

YS: Yes, but only on vacation.

SL: But they have the right to stay all the time they want, even several years, although they lose some advantages related to their status of permanent resident, like the ration card, priority for housing, etc.

YS: Yes, but people can’t stay for several months here, they have their lives abroad, their jobs, etc.

SL: That’s something else, and it’s the same for all émigrés the world over. In any case, they can perfectly return to Cuba whenever they like and stay there all the time they want. The only thing is that if they stay for more than eleven months outside the country they lose some advantages. On the other hand, I find it hard to understand, if reality is so terrible here, if someone has the opportunity to live abroad, in a developed country, why would he or she like to return to live in Cuba again?

YS: For numerous reasons, their family bonds, etc.

SL: Then reality is not that dramatic.

YS: I wouldn’t say that, but some people have better living conditions than others.

SL: What are in your opinion the objectives of the US government with respect to Cuba?

YS: The United States wants a change of government in Cuba, but that’s also what I want.

SL: Then you share a common objective with the United States

YS: Like many Cubans.

SL: I’m not convinced of that, but, why? Why is it a dictatorship? What does Washington want from Cuba?

YS: I believe it’s a geopolitical issue. There’s also the will of the Cuban exile, which is taken into account, and that wants a new Cuba, the well-being of Cubans.

SL: With the imposition of economic sanctions?

YS: It all depends on whom you’re referring to. As for the United States, I think they want to prevent the migratory bomb from exploding.

SL: Is that so? With the Cuban Adjustment Act that incites Cubans to leave their country? That’s not serious. Why don’t they repeal that law then?

YS: I think that the real objective of the United States is to finish with the Cuban government in order to have a more stable space. A lot has been said about David against Goliath to talk about the conflict. But to me the only Goliath is the Cuban government, which imposes control, illegality, low wages, repression, limitations.

SL: You don’t think that US hostility has also contributed?

YS: I not only think it has contributed to it but also that it has become the main argument to say that we live in a besieged fortress and that all dissidence is treason. Actually, I think that the Cuban government fears the disappearance of this confrontation. The Cuban government wants the maintenance of economic sanctions.

SL: Really? Because that’s exactly what Washington says in a somewhat contradictory way, because if that were the case, it should lift the sanctions, thus leaving the Cuban government to stand up to its responsibilities. The excuse of the sanctions to justify problems in Cuba wouldn’t exist.

YS: Every time the United States has tried to improve the situation, the Cuban government has had a counterproductive attitude.

SL: When has the United States tried to improve the situation? Sanctions have been strengthened since 1960, with the exception of the Carter period. It’s difficult then to maintain this discourse. In 1992, the United States voted the Torricelli Law with an extraterritorial reach; in 1996, the Helms-Burton Law, extraterritorial and retroactive; in 2004, Bush adopted new sanctions and increased them in 2006. We can’t say that the United States has tried to improve the situation. Facts show the opposite. Besides, if sanctions are favorable to the Cuban government and it’s only a matter of an excuse, why not eliminate them? Leaders are not the ones who suffer as a consequence of sanctions, but the people.

YS: Obama took a step in that regard, insufficient perhaps, but interesting.

SL: He only eliminated the restrictions Bush imposed on Cubans, which prevented them from travelling to their country for more than 14 days every three years, at the very best, and provided that they had a direct member of their family in Cuba. He even redefined the concept of family. Thus, a Cuban in Florida who only had an uncle in Cuba couldn’t travel to his country because he was not considered to be a “direct” family member. Obama didn’t eliminate all the sanctions imposed by Bush and we didn’t even return to the status that existed under Clinton.

YS: I think the two parties should lower their tone about everything, and Obama has done that. Obama can’t eliminate sanctions, since it takes congressional approval.

SL: But he can alleviate them significantly, by signing simple executive orders, which he refuses to do for the time being.

YS: He’s busy on other issues, like unemployment and the heath reform.

SL: However he took time to respond to your interview.

YS: I’m a fortunate person.

SL: The position of the Cuban government is the following: we don’t have to take steps before the United States since we don’t impose sanctions on the United States.

YS: Yes and the government also says that the United States should not ask for domestic changes, because that’s interference.

SL: That’s the case, right?

YS: Then if I ask for a change it’s also interference?

SL: No, because you’re Cuban and for that reason you have the right to decide the future of your country.

YS: The problem is not who is asking for those changes but the changes in question.

SL: I’m not sure, because as a French citizen I wouldn’t like the Belgian or the German government to interfere with France’s internal affairs. As a Cuban, do you accept that the US government tells you how to govern your country?

YS: If the objective is an aggression to the country, it’s obviously unacceptable.

SL: Do you consider economic sanctions an aggression?

YS: Yes, I consider them an aggression that hasn’t had results and that it’s a mummy of the cold war, that it makes no sense, that it affects the people and that has made the government stronger. But I repeat that the Cuban government is responsible for 80% of the current economic crisis and the remaining 20% is due to the economic sanctions.

SL: One more, I repeat, it’s exactly the position of the US government and figures show the opposite. If that were the case I don’t think that 187 countries in the world would bother to vote a resolution against the sanctions. This is the 18th consecutive time that the vast majority of the UN member nations declare themselves to be against this economic punishment. If it were marginal issue, I don’t think these nations would bother to vote.

YS: But I’m not a specialist in economics; it’s my personal feeling

SL: What do you advocate then for Cuba?

YS: I think the economy needs to be liberalized. That can’t be done overnight, because it would cause a fracture and social differences that would affect the most vulnerable people. But it has to be done gradually and the Cuban government has the possibility of doing it.

SL: A “sui generis” capitalism, like you say.

YS: Cuba is a sui generis island. We can create a sui generis capitalism.

SL: Yoani Sánchez, thank you for your time and your availability.

YS: Thank you.

Salim Lamrani is a professor in charge of courses at the Paris-Sorbonne -Paris IV University and at the Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University. He’s a French journalist and a specialist on relations between Cuba and the USA.

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