Cuba’s Foreign Relations Ministry (MINREX) applauded Cubans living abroad “in defense of the Revolution,” the Spain-based Diario de Cuba reported on Thursday, suggesting Cubans who migrate are agents of the communist state and disregarding the existence of political refugees.
Cuba is a repressive state that imprisons individuals who publicly disagree with communism, typically for the crime of desacato (“disrespect” or “contempt”). Public Cuban dissidents are “regulated” – banned from leaving the country. Millions of Cuban refugees have fled the island since Fidel Castro’s violent revolution took place in 1959, the most prominent among them often disparaged in government propaganda as U.S. “mercenaries” or “terrorists.” The regime also uses this language against Cuban-Americans and members of the global exile community who advocate for human rights on the island.
Cuba also considers all ethnic Cubans, regardless of where they were born, Cuban citizens.
MINREX did not address the overwhelming opposition to the regime on the part of the Cuban exile community. Instead, senior official Ernesto Soberón Guzmán boasted that most of those the regime recognizes as Cubans living abroad are documented foreign residents with the regime.
“We have identified approximately 1,485,618 Cuban citizens residing abroad, not counting their descendants,” Soberón said. “Among them, 1,195,607 are enlisted at our consulates.”
“The Cuban government recognizes, values, and counts with the labor of Cubans residing abroad in the defense of the Revolution,” Soberón said. “Cubans living abroad present important potential to contribute to the development of the country.”
“The count on knowledge, a good deal of it acquired in Cuba, and experiences with which they can contribute,” he added.
Soberón also claimed that 57,746 Cubans have requested to move back to the island since 2013, over 36,000 of them formerly living in the United States.
Soberón offered an interview to Juventud Rebelde (“Rebel Youth”), a Cuban communist propaganda outlet, in anticipation of April’s Conference on the Nation and Immigration, an event meant to tighten Havana’s control over individual Cubans living outside its control. Upon announcing that conference, the Cuban regime admitted what members of the exile community had long warned: immigrants that the regime allows to leave the country often operate as spies and government agents.
Government-approved foreign Cuban residents “constitute an important pillar in the defense of the Nation, our culture, history, and values,” MINREX said in a statement in December.
“Heirs to the traditions of struggle handed down by our forebears, Cubans residing abroad constitute an important pillar in the defense of the Nation, our culture, history, and values,” the statement read. “In that sense, this [conference] will unite those Cubans who respect, love Cuba, defend it as free and independent and actively oppose the blockade imposed by the government of the United States.”
“The defense of the Cuban Revolution and condemnation of the embargo the government of the United States maintains against Cuba is [sic] a topic that will be present at the event,” Soberón said in this week’s interview, adding that the conference will teach Cubans abroad “how to use social media in defense of the fatherland.”
The United States imposed an economic blockade on Cuba in the aftermath of the 1959 Revolution. Cuba reciprocated. Due to years of erosion led by Democratic forces in America, the American embargo has largely weakened, allowing Americans to conduct illegal tourist activities on the island through vaguely worded exceptions in the embargo policy. In contrast, Cuba has intensified its embargo on the United States, making it more difficult for Cuban-Americans to bring basic goods to their family members on the island.
Soberón’s remarks on the importance of Cubans living abroad with the regime’s blessing to its foreign policy follow months of Latin American nations protesting that Cuba is using medical programs to flood their countries with spies. Cuba maintains a slave doctor program in which it forces medical school graduates to travel to countries like Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela to treat patients without receiving salaries, only modest housing and food. Leaders in Brazil and Bolivia – as well as Chile and Ecuador – have complained that evidence has surfaced that many of these doctors were working as spies or agents of the government. Chile deported 30 Cubans in November caught participating in and encouraging leftist riots. Bolivia has similarly arrested at least four Cubans caught paying locals to riot in favor of socialist ex-president Evo Morales; they claimed to be in the country as part of Cuba’s slave doctor program.
In the United States, the administration of President Donald Trump has moved in the past four years to strengthen the embargo after the erosion that occurred during the era of his predecessor Barack Obama. Last week, the U.S. government suspended all charter flights to Cuba outside of those traveling to Havana in an attempt to limit Cuba’s profits from American travel.
For years, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has proposed amendments to American law to ensure that only political dissidents can take refuge in the United States and prevent Cuban government agents from settling in the country. In 2016, Rubio proposed a bill that would require Cubans to prove political persecution to take advantage of refugee benefits.
“It is very difficult to justify a special status for Cubans when a large number of Cubans come to the U.S. and within a year of coming, under the guise of political freedom, fleeing an oppressive government, they’re going back to Cuba 25 times a year,” Rubio said in 2016. “You don’t travel back 25 times a year to a place that you find to be repressive and that you’re being personally persecuted.”