A COMPARISON OF FEATURES IN TWO DIASPORA COMMUNITIES:
CUBANS IN MIAMI AND VENEZUELA
Holly Ackerman, Ph.D.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118
Prepared for presentation at: The International Studies Association Meeting
February 16-20, 1999
1st Draft - Not for circulation
Please do not cite without permission of the author.
A COMPARISON OF FEATURES IN TWO DIASPORA COMMUNITIES:
CUBANS IN MIAMI AND VENEZUELA
Holly Ackerman, Ph.D. - Tulane University - New Orleans, LA 70118
What follows is a listing and brief commentary on features that distinguish * two diaspora locations; the Cuban exile in Miami, Florida and the Cuban exile community in Venezuela. Based on archival work and interviews conducted by the author, this inventory is offered as an initial assessment in an on-going research project on the history of the Cuban diaspora. 1 Five factors will be addressed including:
1. Intellectual frames of investigation
3 The state & historical relationships between home and host locations
4 Civil society
5 Culture - immersion vs acculturation; dominant vs subordinate immigrant groups
Since 1959, the Cuban diaspora has been analogized to a series of waves. * Waves of exodus have been churned up or extinguished by events in Cuba often directly related to hostile foreign policy actions or reactions of the U.S. government (The Bay of Pigs, The Missile Crisis, Camarioca boatlift, Mariel boatlift, etc.). Cubans on the island are characterized as having declared allegiance to one government or the other, with those who presumably support the U.S. leaving under a counterrevolutionary cloud and those who stay characterized as revolutionary supporters. As a result, the diaspora population has often been represented by a series of stereotypical political or economic attitudes (anti-communist, capitalistic, etc.) with modal demographic characteristics sandwiched between the wave machine of Cuban/U.S. government action and reaction. Since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and subsequent near collapse of the Cuban economy, the latest wave has been recast as a labor diaspora .
What is more, * the image of the entire Cuban diaspora (about 15% of all Cubans live in diaspora) has frequently been represented by the Miami community - which is by far the largest diaspora location for Cubans containing approximately 50% of all persons of Cuban origin in the United States in 1997. In turn, Miami has been characterized as a politically reactionary, right wing monolith , ,  Since Miami is an easy point of reference, the whole diaspora has come to be viewed this way and the existence of multiple communities, generational shifts, eras and political points of view has been obscured.
Over time, the wave approach has also distorted description in another way. By casting backward in time to compare the modal demographics of each wave at arrival, the current status of each wave is overlooked. For example, * after forty years, the relative size of each wave has been altered by the number of deaths in exile. * Within the group arriving in the U.S. between 1959 and 1975, there have been over 200,000 deaths in exile (Rumbaut 1999). The proportion of one modal population to another is shifting and the opinions of those born in diaspora become an important focus of attention for predicting future scenarios.
An alternative intellectual vehicle for analyzing the processes and composition of the Cuban diaspora involves analogy to vintages of exit , Kunz 1973, 1981, Pedraza 1990, Pedraza & Rumbaut 1990, Perez and Rumbaut 1999, Rumbaut 1998). * This model looks at people and their individual and small group circumstances, calculations and motives. The vintage approach analyses social types who planned to leave versus those who left abruptly; occupational or family patterns of leaving; groups who leave by more or less dangerous routes, etc. It is possible that various vintages may be included within a single wave and may cross waves.
For example, people have been leaving Cuba in fragile, sea-going craft (inner tubes, rafts, small rowboats, etc.) since 1959, and are ordinarily included in temporal waves in a way that obscures their special circumstances, risks and sub-group demographics. In summary, the wave method places attention on foreign policy and collective demography while the vintage method highlights social types, social networks, subgroups and micro-level calculations.Reference will be made to both models in this overview. The reader should be alert to the benefits/limits of each approach.
It is also useful to distinguish both eras and generations in the two locations.These groupings might be conceptualized as a different type of wave being framed by life experience rather than foreign policy events. * * Two eras and three generations can be described. Eras include those who were born and raised in Cuba in the pre-revolutionary period (with most arriving in the diaspora between 1959-1979); those born and raised in Cuba during the post-revolutionary period (arriving in the diaspora since 1980). The formative political, cultural and social experience and orientation of the two eras are distinct, stemming primarily from the differences in political regime that framed their experience, access to material goods, life opportunities and values. Generations include those who reached adulthood in Cuba, those leaving while still below the age of majority and those born outside Cuba. Each community contains members of the various eras and generations.
The first and most obvious difference between the two diaspora locations is their relative size. * Although Venezuela is the largest Cuban diaspora community outside of the U.S., its total population is over thirty times smaller than that in the U.S. (1.2 million of Cuban descent in the U.S. and approximately 600,000 in Miami vs a maximum of 50,000 in all of Venezuela). Secondly, data regarding the Miami community are more readily available, detailed and reliable. The economic crisis in Venezuela since the mid-1980s has made immigration and census statistics highly suspect or unavailable at the same time that immigration to Venezuela is fairly open and corrupt. An open attitude to newcomers plus economic hard times have created a kind of retail business for some migration officials who facilitate passage into and out of Venezuela. This makes precise figures impossible. As will be discussed below, the small numerical size of the Cuban community in Venezuela does not reflect its relative importance within the diaspora. On several counts, the Venezuelan community has significance disproportionate to its size.
The two communities:
There is a longstanding and intense relationship between the Cuban and Venezuelan people, partly because of their common colonial heritage and relative geographic closeness. Since colonial times, protagonists of Venezuelan political life passed through Cuba and vice versa. Jose Antonio Echevarria, Francisco Javier Yanez, Francisco de Miranda, Narciso Lopez all come to mind as does Jose Marti who lived in Venezuelan exile and was expelled for discussing Venezuelan politics in his journalism (Alvarez 19??). 2 Many of the revolutionaries who fought Perez Jimenez and created the Venezuelan democratic regime in 1958 (as well as key figures in recent Venezuelan politics) lived in exile in Cuba - Romulo Betancourt wrote for Bohemia magazine in Havana, Carlos Andres Perez and Simon Roberto Consalvi both lived in Cuba. * With the fall of Perez Jimenez in 1958, Caracas became the epicenter of Cuban guerrilla communication - the well known radio station Indio Azul transmitted the Message of Radio Rebelde to Cuba. Hence the Cuban arrivals after 1959 were following a long tradition of mutual aid.
* The historical relationship between Cuba and South Florida is no less extensive but far more ambivalent. Although Cubans have not been able to agree on a collective form of government, they have a strong national identity which has been sorely tested by North American interference. Whether in colonial times when the Spanish were run out of Florida and their royal archives appropriated or in the war for independence when Cuban sovereignity was usurped by the Platt Amendment, limited by U.S. support for dictators and alternating tolerance and rejection of Cuban revolutionaries in U.S. exile. * The Miami diaspora is, therefore, living in a hostland but simultaneously undertaking reconquest.
During the first period of post-revolutionary exit to Venezuela (1959-1960), Venezuelan society was itself embroiled in a political struggle between deepening a newly-established (1958) representative democracy under the leadership of President Romulo Betancourt or pursuing a more radical socialist alternative. This was a battle fought directly on Venezuelan soil and involved both urban and rural guerrillas. The Cubans entered a sister country in a parallel state of political effervesence not unlike their homeland but headed in the direction of democracy rather than socialism. The battle they had just lost at home still might be won in their diaspora locale. In any case, the urgency of the Cuban experience would be viewed sympathetically by many sectors of the Venezuelan population.
* Venezuelan foreign policy did not include direct, military interference in the consolidation of the Cuban revolutionary regime, whereas * the Cuban regime actively interfered in the Venezuelan struggle by sending arms, military advisors, and training Venezuelan guerrillas. The Venezuelan did, however, introduce the resolution calling for Cuba's expulsion from the Organization of American States following the discovery of Cuban arms shipments to Venezuelan guerrillas.When Venezuelan citizens went to the polls in 1963 to elect their second democratic President, they had to defy revolutionary groups who threatened mass violence against voters. They did so with a voter turnout above 90%. This state of affairs strengthened identification and support between Cuban arrivals and most sectors of the Venezuelan public. * * The Cubans in Venezuela were among friends and, moreover, they were vicariously able to witness and participate in the consolidation of democracy on Latin American terms.
* In Miami, diasporans were being urged to assimilate and to "learn" or "earn" democracy the North American way. The U.S.-C.I.A. recruited, trained, paid and controlled invasionary parties of Cuban ex-patriots - the Bay of Pigs invasion being the prime example. For Cubans in Miami, the U.S. approach resulted in their clear military defeat and an enduring feeling of frustration and betrayal. It also occasioned a second wave of exit from Cuba to Venezuela following Fidel Castro's Second Declaration of Havana in 1961 (announcing the communist nature of the revolutionary government). It is interesting that the boundary-events for "waves" in the Venezuelan case are measured differently than in the U.S. Most Cubans and government officials in Venezuela mark 1959-1960 as the beginning and ending dates of the first wave and describe a population composed of the wealthy, political asylees and persons having relatives in Venezuela. The second wave is started in 1961 by "The Second Declaration of Havana" and ends with introduction of detante toward Venezuela's own guerrillas - urging their incorporation into civic life (1969-73), the party system and the resumption of relations with Cuba (1974).
U.S. officials generally use the Cuban Missile Crisis as the close of the first wave and begin the next wave in 1965 with the Camarioca boatlift and the start of the U.S. sponsored Freedom Flights. Hence, the proximate causes of diaspora flows are often in the eyes of elite beholders but have a powerful effect in shaping the history and identity of those caught up in them.
Former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez described his role in sculpting the curves of diapora waves saying: "It is true that I discouraged entry of more Cubans during my first term and I sacrificed the human capital that more Cubans would have brought us during this period - they are a talented people... energetic....hard-working .. this was a real loss for Venezuela. But, I judged the resumption of foreign relations .... the normalization of relations .... to be more important to Venezuela and all of Latin America" (Perez 1998). In this example we can see the historical nexus of politics and theory. Instinctively, the Venezuelan President was analyzing the expansion/contraction of the Cuban diaspora in terms of waves and vintages and ultimately coming down on the side of stopping a wave. Foreign policy frames (waves) took priority over the mobility of individuals.
Ironically, anti-guerrilla military success in Venezuela did not result in inordinate Cuban exile involvement with the foreign policy agenda in Venezuela (though it did bring episodic influence), whereas * military failure in the Miami diaspora was ultimately converted into a high degree of exile control of U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba. This involvement in foreign policy was coupled with active, right-wing repression of political expression in the Cuban enclave in Miami. Hence, manipulation of U.S. foreign policy has been an instrumental objective for control in Miami while diaspora involvement in Venezuela has stemmed from identification as Latin Americans, the ease of cultural immersion in a sister country and adoption of party-based political beliefs embedded in the particulars of Venezuela's democracy.This instrumental vs affective split is perhaps the most persistent distinction between the two communities.
A third wave of Cubans arrived in Venezuela and Miami in 1979-1980 and was composed of two distinct vintages - ex-political prisoners and embassy/Mariel refugees. Perhaps no other period illustrates the complexity and differences among various host/home relations as does this phase. * * In Venezuela, the government of President Luis Herrera Campins (COPEI - 1979-1983) agreed to accept former political prisoners and their families following negotiation with Fidel Castro by members of the diaspora community in Venezuela, Miami, and Spain. In Miami, these negotiations were conducted in secret (at least as much in secret as possible in the village atmosphere of Miami) and resulted in a violent reaction when announced. "Dialogueros" (dialoguers - those exiles who eventually went to Cuba to meet with Castro in 1978) were threatened, bombed and even killed by right-wing elements who opposed all return or negotiation with Castro in power. As a result, * * when the talks produced a Cuban/U.S. agreement to permit return visits by exiles and the exit of political prisoners, the conservative/reactionary sectors of the Miami community once again felt betrayed and divisions along ideological lines deepened within the community. Furthermore, upon arrival in Miami, the new diasporans were shunned or ignored by many Miami groups. Traditions of mutual aid were withdrawn or curtailed.
By contrast, in Venezuela, Eduardo Garcia Moure 3 was the first contacted in 1977 by Castro's representative regarding a possible agreement and he organized a town meeting of Cubans in Venezuela to discuss the advisability of such an opening. The series of meetings that resulted was led by Mon. Eduardo Boza Mas Vidal, the spiritual leader of the Cuban community in Venezuela and formerly the priest at La Iglesia de La Caridad in Havana (a church dedicated to Cuba's highly venerated patron saint). In Venezuela, as in Miami, right wing elements opposed the exchange but participated in the discussion process and were eventually outvoted. In Venezuela there was no violent retaliation against the community decision to talk with Castro. Pres. Herrera Campins then agreeed to accept 1,300 prisoners and their families with the understanding that the Cuban community would provide for them, assuring that they would not become a public charge. The citizen's committee charged with carrying out this mutual aid still exists under the direction of Mon. Boza and continues to settle new arrivals. As the new diasporans poured in, they lived communally for their first weeks in Venezuela in a series of houses rented and catered by the Cuban community. * The traditions of Cuban democracy and mutual aid were strengthened in Venezuela even as they eroded in Miami.
In both locations, the arrival of the second vintage in the 1979-1980 period - young people raised exclusively under the revolutionary regime - was a significant event - a new era. The Mariel arrivals in both diaspora locations presented collective issues that were new - e.g., criminality, lack of common customs and different attitudes toward family and work (Cuban Haitian Task Force Final Report 1981, Larzelere 1987). In Venezuela, Mon. Boza's committee was faced with the necessity of formalizing procedures, limiting or conditioning aid.
In Miami, the U.S. government moved new arrivals into detention centers at unused Army bases and the Miami community largely withdrew support. With time, the "Marielitos" have pulled even with prior Cuban arrivals on socio-economic measures but the circumstances of both groups in this third wave have left different marks on the respective diaspora communities. * In Miami political tensions grew as ex-political prisoners created a new generation of moderate community leaders that have challenged the reigning reactionary policy. Despite their advances, the social stigma attached to Mariel remains.
* In Venezuela the arrival of the ex-prisoners was seen as a victory and a welcome addition. The social reality of Mariel arrivals is a source of continuing debate. Each generation of the diaspora looks at the other and wonders if the other is "damaged." But, in Venezuela the diaspora community reached across this divide whereas in Miami they withdrew.
Since 1980, popular faith in the Venezuelan system of pacted democracy has eroded, there has been a strengthened realignment between populist forces in Venezuela and the Cuban government. The net political effect within the Cuban diaspora community, however, has been a natural alliance of center left to center right forces that has strengthened identification of Cubans with each other and with reformers in their hostland. * For example, the religious leaders in Caracas participated in and sanctioned diasporan community participation in the Pope's 1997 visit to Cuba.
In Miami, the 1995 decision of President Clinton to exclude further exiles and to tighten the embargo has strengthened awareness that political change in Cuba will have to come from within the island. Across the political and social spectrum, ties with island dissidents and relatives have increased. Some argue for civil disobediance and others for negotiation but all have moved closer to island counterparts. Still the community leaders in Miami, including religious leaders, could not bring themselves to endorse diaspora participation in the Pope's visit.
It should also be mentioned that distinct spacial arrangements distinguish the two diaspora locations. As was mentioned above, * the Miami community developed in a geographic area that was underpopulated. Alejandro Portes and Alex Stepick (1993) have described at length how this geographic reality permitted Cuban newcomers to establish an enclave that developed into the dominant group. Cuban culture, business and politics did not melt into or serve the interests of existing groups. Rather, it was large enough and wealthy enough to establish a separate reality. * The fact that early arrivals were wealthy and had some of their wealth available for local investment, together with Cuban preferences for bankrolling their own local businessses and industries was combined with the willingness of Cuban women to work and the availablility of U.S. social welfare benefits to produce a prosperous enclave which eventually dominated local government and civil society.
* The Cubans prospered in Venezuela as well but followed a different pattern of dispersal, merging with Venezuelan society in Caracas,Valencia and Barquisimeto, establishing a formidable presence in industry, commerce and agriculture. Cubans merged with cultural and linguistic peers but were, and continue to be, more highly skilled than ordinary Venezuelans. Latin American agreements permit newly arriving doctors and engineers to have their Cuban degrees validated in a relatively short time thereby facilitating their financial and professional adjustment. This has been an attraction for Cuban medical personnel.
Those Cubans with fewer skills have generally relied on family and small social networks to get ahead. They frequently work as conserjes (superintendents) in the high rise apartment houses that are common in Venezuela. One family member can then maintain the building while others do informal or salaried work and save to buy an independent business or to move on to Miami. Cuban energy and ability are greatly admired in Venezuela.
* Cubans continue to enter Venezuela either by overstaying tourist visas, crossing borders when assigned to international contract work in neighboring countries, arranging marriages (a small industry between Cuba and Venezuela), or by working with the blessing of the Cuban government and enjoying multiple entry visas for both countries. In Valencia, in 1997, the author had no difficulty meeting 21 doctors or engineers who had entered within the previous 24 months. Primicia, a Venezuelan magazine, quoted a figure of 300 doctors opening practices in Venezuela during the 1990-1993 period (Primicia 1/1997). Small groups are also entering through arrangements between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments (El Universal 1/10/1998). In exchange for U.S. subsidy, the Venezuelans extended transient immigration status to 21 Cuban rafters who were sent from Guantanamo after being picked up at sea in 1997 by U.S. Coast Guard ships but found to have reasonable claims for asylum. Whether this pattern of subsidized diaspora is a new policy practice of U.S. authorities remains to be seen.
Since 1995 changes in U.S./Cuban migration agreements, Cubans who arrive by raft and other informal means are now illegal and inelegible for work permits and social welfare benefits. Those picked up at sea are returned through the port of Cabanas. * Those who are illegally in Miami face the problem of finding work without having proper documents. Overall, the sheer size of the Miami community, the presence of non-profit refugee agencies for resettlement (under contract to the U.S. government) and INS bureaucracy foster reduced involvement by the earlier waves of the diaspora community except when relatives are involved. Newer arrivals, however, have been active in helping each other.
* During the 1994 raft crisis, it was not uncommon to see someone who had arrived last month offering to sponsor a neighbor who arrived today. Patterns of helping seem to be arranged within eras rather than across them. This is not the case in Venezuela. Help is extended across generations and waves of Cubans, with less political conflict within the community overall. At least one key leader in Venezuela commented on this cooperative spirit in relation to the size of the Venezuelan community saying, "We get along because we have to. If there were more of us, we would have our disagreements like they do in Miami."
Analysis and Conclusions:
This prelininary inventory of key factors in two diaspora locations raises the following points.
** * What constitutes a pattern of dispersion in diasporas is a constructed reality. Elite application of different boundaries/frames changes the fundamental perception of diaspora groups in ways that affect their identity and incorporation profoundly.
** * Movement into a society with similar culture, language and social/political problems may facilitate acceptance in the hostland, particularly when the diaspora group has skills to offer and there are not legal prohibitions against their entry into the job market.
** * Political antagonisms within the diaspora group need not carry over from homeland to hostland if the political context of reception and the historical relationships of diaspora population to the new hostland is positive. * Tension in U.S./Cuban relations prior to 1959 continues to be "historical baggage" that is carried in Miami but is not present in Venezuela. As a result, the Venezuelan groups can tolerate greater diversity both politically and socially.
1. Data gathering took place in Miami between 1994 - 1996 and in
Venezuela between 1997-1998. The work was made possible in Miami thanks to
The Albert Einstein Institution, Cambridge Massachusetts and in Venezuela
by The Council for the International Exchange of Scholars.
2. Jose Antonio Echeverria = an influential
pre-independence reformer who was born in Venezuela but lived in Cuba;
Francisco Javier Yanez=a Cuban bornrepresentative to the first Congress of
Venezuela in 1811; Francisco de Miranda=A primary figure in Venezuelan
independence who spent time exiled in Cuba; Narciso Lopez=A Venezuelan
credited with making the Cuban flag.
3. Garcia Moure was a pre-revolutionary labor organizer in Cuba and currently is the Adjunct Secretary General of the Central Latinoamericana de Trabajadores (CLAT) in San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela.
1. Cohen, R., ed. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. Global Diasporas, ed. R. Cohen. 1997, University of Washington Press: Seattle. 228.
2. Arboleya, J., Havana Miami: The US-Cuba Migration Conflict. 1996, Melbourne: Ocean Press.
3. (CEAP), C.d.E.d.A.P., ed. Emigracion Cubana. . 1996, Universidad de la Habana, CEAP: La Habana. 184.
4. Masud-Piloto, F., From Welcomed Exiles to Illegal Immigrants: Cuban Migration to the U.S., 1959-1995. 1996, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. 168.
5. Ackerman, H., Mass Migration, Nonviolent Social Action, and the Cuban Raft Exodus, 1959- 1994: An Analysis of Citizen Motivation and International Politics, in International Studies. 1996, The University of Miami: Coral Gables. p. 263.
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