Monday, August 13, 2007

Bush's Miami Vice - full text

Bush's Miami vice

Cuban emigrants tend to hate Castro less than they once did. Maybe that's why they now seem less welcome in the US.
Ian Williams

Guardian Comment is Free
August 12, 2007 12:00 PM

The only certain thing about the mysterious hold-ups on Cuban visas is that Washington is lying. Are the new Cubans voting the wrong way? Since 1994, the US has issued 20,000 visas a year to Cubans in return for Havana's promises to try to stop Cubans swimming, rafting or boating their way across to Florida. Some recent surveys suggest these new immigrants, who have left with the cooperation of Castro's government and are more racially and socially diverse, are less likely to vote Republican and less likely to support the embargo against the Cuban government. Looking at the knife-edge, by-chad-or-by-crook elections in Florida, this could actually make a difference.

Dagoberto Rodríiguez, head of the Cuban interests section in Washington, went public on Wednesday with Cuban complaints about the Bush administration's slowdown of immigration visas at the Havana US interests department. It seems the Americans have issued only half of the 20,000 visas they promised to Cuba in 1994.

Another explanation, which does not necessarily preclude the first, is that Cuban exile hardliners in Florida and Washington think closing off the escape valve of emigration to the US will build up pressure for regime change inside Cuba. While cutting visas in Havana, the Bush administration has allowed fast-track immigration procedures for Cuban doctors sent to places such as Venezuela, presumably hoping to undercut Havana's flagship internationalist programme.

Of course, there is more than the usual whiff of hypocrisy about the whole thing. Castro's fatal mistake was to adopt East German, Stasi-style emigration procedures and to denounce those who did succeed in leaving as "gusanos" - worms. In fact, the whole Caribbean has been busily emigrating to the north for some centuries, and if Castro had been more laidback, all those emigrants would have been repatriating money, buying retirement homes and holidaying back in the fatherland.

Actually, not that many Cubans have left. The last US census figures show 870,000 Cuban-born residents in the country, which is less than a 12th of the population remaining in Cuba. In comparison, the far more prosperous Barbados (which has a developed-country economy and a health service!) has 52,000 immigrants in the US, which is almost a fifth of its stay-at-home population; Jamaica has about the same proportion - and these Caribbean island diasporas are patriotic supporters of their homelands.

If anything, it is surprising that so few came to the US, bearing in mind that, because of the strength of the anti-Castro crowd, the US guaranteed a green card to any Cuban. That policy fell apart in the early nineties, when an embarrassed Clinton had to explain why any of the (predominately white) Cubans who landed in Florida stepped on to a red carpet while black Haitians fleeing a CIA-inspired military regime were promptly deported.

That was the genesis of the 20,000 Cuban quota in return for Cuban connivance at holding back would-be emigrants, even if it made the US administration effective accomplices in a practice it had hitherto ferociously condemned. The US was supposed to send back any Cubans landing without papers, but in a typically Clintonian compromise it decided on the wet foot/dry foot policy: the US Coast Guard would turn back any caught at sea but the Immigration and Naturalisation Service would welcome any who actually made it to whatever passes for dry land in Florida.

The State Department's official response to the Cuban charges is so risible that it invites assumptions of nefarious politicking - and not just because this is, after all, an administration with something of a track record on the big fib front. It claims the hold-up is because the Cubans have stopped personnel and supplies getting to the US interests section in Havana. As Wayne Smith, a former State Department official and Cuba-watcher, chuckles: "I've not seen any signs of American staff denied entry, and as for allowing materials, the visa stamps and the forms are all there. The Cubans have the right of it on this."

The State Department quite rightly said Castro's government should allow freedom to travel, but that is more than a little hypocritical if the US does not give them visas. Once again, the US makes Castro look good.

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