Two weeks ago, I participated in a public discussion at FIU with the author of “Cuban Privilege, the Making of Immigrant Inequality in America.”
On Dec. 20, author Susan Eckstein wrote a Herald Opinion article where she mischaracterized our point-counterpoint discussion that night, where I was invited to express the view of Cuban exiles about the book.
I have read her book cover to cover. And I still think Eckstein makes two key assertions that must be addressed.
The first is that Cuban exiles received unprecedented immigration treatment in the United States.
The second is that the exiles were not wholly deserving of treatment as refugees since most of them neither faced direct persecution nor had well-grounded fear of it in Cuba.
According to Eckstein’s opening pages, Cuban exiles “were imagined” to be refugees by successive U.S. administrations and thereby privileged by this “construction.”
The author repeatedly affirms different variations of the concept that Cubans were not refugees because “their lifestyle but not their lives were at risk.”
To make the latter assertion, the author would need to discard overwhelming evidence that, to this day, massive levels of systematic state terror have been institutionalized by the Castro regime. Massacres, executions, mass political imprisonment, concentration camps, systematic harassment and attacks on dissidents by government-organized mobs, as well as other repressive measures, have been instruments of internal policy in Cuba since the revolution.
These measures have been applied both to active enemies of the regime and passive dissidents and to Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, nonconformist artists and intellectuals, among others, who have been the subject of consistent repression and persecution.
These Cubans were stripped of their property and banned by the regime from returning to their homeland. In fact, merely requesting to leave the country legally was enough for citizens to suffer marginalization in Cuban society.
Moreover, attempting to leave was punishable by either death or imprisonment. In the 1960s, letters and phone calls to family members in exile were limited and monitored by the regime. Corresponding with a loved one abroad was a cause for blocking advancement within the new society.
In 1959, Fidel Castro imposed nothing less than the first totalitarian communist regime in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
Free Cubans courageously confronted the regime and continued to struggle against it. Unfortunately, U.S. support was often inconsistent and, at its worst, as in the Bay of Pigs invasion, resulted in outright betrayal. Thanks to the 1962 Kennedy-Khrushchev Agreement, the United States did not decisively pursue any effort to bring about the liberation of Cuba.
Facing the breakdown of one of Latin America’s most prosperous societies, successive U.S. administrations carried out diverse initiatives to deal with the mass exodus, be it Operation Pedro Pan, Camarioca, the Freedom Flights, Mariel Boatlift, the 1992 Rafter Crisis and today’s continued arrival of Cubans by land and sea, can’t be ignored.
It is the result from both totalitarian repression in Cuba and U.S. policy failures in successfully aiding Cubans in regaining their freedom. Yes, the United States generously opened its doors to Cuban refugees, but the collective priority of the initial exiles remained the liberation of their homeland, not to permanently remain here.
To understand why Cuban refugees either directly suffered persecution or had a well-grounded fear of it, one would have to study the full application of totalitarianism in Cuba. Yet, perhaps tellingly, the word “totalitarian” only appears once in “Cuban Privilege” and only then in reference to language in a U.S. bill.
Yes, the treatment of Cuban refugees in the immigration process did indeed have precedent in the application of “refugee” status of successive U.S. laws and immigration directives to persons fleeing other totalitarian Communist regimes. Cubans were not the first. China and Hungary stand as prime examples of countries whose refugees were also offered humanitarian special entry to the United States.
As the Cold War raged, the United States viewed itself as a refuge to those fleeing communism and other repressive governments.
There are two other essential factors in the Cuban situation: the geographical and cultural nearness of the United States to Cuba, as well as U.S. guilt over the repeated abandonment of Cuban freedom forces, namely in the 1961 Bay of Pigs, which led to an onslaught of more Cubans seeking resettlement here.
So why does the author base the book on these two assertions — that Cubans are not refugees and that we unjustly received special treatment — when the overwhelming historical and social evidence shows that exiled Cubans have suffered from either direct persecution or well-grounded fear of it and that the Cuban refugee status was not unprecedented, but somewhat similar to the status provided to refugees from other Communist totalitarian countries?
I believe that an ideological bias has affected the accuracy of Eckstein’s work. The pages of her book are peppered with ideological statements not based on factual data or analysis.
For example, the author contends that the Castro regime embodied “Cuba’s right to self-determination …” But she never questions how a country where all basic freedoms were stamped out in less than 18 months after a revolution could freely determine its destiny.
And in the same sentence, the author states that the United States “… privileging Cubans was never noble.”
That constitutes a value statement, begging the question of why the author considers that the United States either aiding Cubans in regaining the fundamental freedoms promised by the new regime as it struggled for power against former president Fulgencio Batista, or helping Cubans flee from Castro’s regime once it had betrayed that initial promise, was not a worthy act.
And why not?
Orlando Gutierrez Boronat is the author of the book “Cuba: the Doctrine of the Lie.” He is also the coordinator of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)