Friday, April 18, 2008

Reform du Jour: Freedom to Travel?

That's the scuttlebutt these days: Cubans will no longer have to apply and pay for the privilege of leaving the country, unless they happen to be doctors, university grads and the like in which case they can't leave. The medical profession in particular is already under pressure, as "pool boy" or "rickshaw taxi" are more lucrative occupations. Now the prospect of life without parole is bound to have a further dampening effect.

The latest in an increasingly longer line of "reforms," this one would seem to hold a bit more promise for the bulk of the population, seems the operative word here. In yet another masterstroke, Raul the Munificent (I borrowed that) continues steadily undermining American policy. Please note, first he removes the restrictions that make Cubans feel like second-class citizens in their own country, while at the same time countering the one objection to the regime's treatment of the Cuban people that has gained some traction- "tourist apartheid," apartheid being the one word liberals can understand because they remember the halcyon days of boycotting South Africa. It is interesting to note that the lack of civil liberties, arbitrary imprisonment, and convictions of "precriminal dangerousness" in Cuba seem to have made nary a dent on the same liberal psyche. People who cry bounteous tears over enemy "combatants' in Guantanamo give no thought to the "enslaved population" in Guantanamo proper.

What Raul would be doing is to place the responsibility for the failed regime on the United States and to a lesser extent countries like Spain, saying, in effect, "put your money where your mouth is. You care about them so much, you take 'em." And what country can and will absorb huge swaths of the Cuban population? Think of the numbers who will suddenly be seized with an overwhelming desire to see cousin Yasnavi in Union City. What will happen when the huddled masses apply to "visit" relatives? The United States government is already wary of admitting visiting Cubans for fear they will stay. Gone will be the automatic asylum. And the ramifications for politics and policy could be mind boggling. Would this create a perfect storm in the present climate of paid "experts," wouldbe embargo lifters, and xenophobes? Would this be the wedge that finally splits the Miami voting bloc and allows easing of the restrictions and the lifting of the embargo? At the same time, it would serve as an object lesson to the Cuban people as Papa says to his children, "see, they don't want you." Speculation? Sure. It bears some thinking, though.

But there is always the law of unintended consequences. What would be the effect if Cubans did get to visit other countries? What would happen if they were to see that people in capitalist countries do not have to scrounge daily for sustenance, observe what it was like to be able to voice your opinions without fear of retribution, and see first hand what it is like to live in a home that was painted after 1963? That is also a consideration. It is a dangerous game for the regime and a sign of the dire straits in which it finds itself. I used to think that Castro the first had made a Faustian bargain with the Devil in order to stay in power all these years, but now I begin to suspect that he had the clever fiend at his side all the time.

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