These brief comments address several pointed ideas raised in Silvia Pedraza’s provocative paper, “Democratization and Migration: Cuba’s Exodus and the Development of Civil Society—Hindrance or Help?,”1 and offer a far-reaching, but nonetheless possible scenario, for a future democratic transition in Cuba. Before I develop these points, I must confess that I regard myself as a very sympathetic student of Silvia’s work as well as that of Albert O. Hirschman, the theorist she wittingly utilizes in her paper.
Following the framework in Hirschman’s seminal Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Silvia argues that awkward institutional arrangements and a sustained desire to regain a relative high standard of living lost after the revolution motivates many Cubans to exit the island. She careful assesses four different scenarios about the relation between exit (migration) and the prospects for democracy.
1. Massive exit further undermines the articulation of voice (or internal dissent).
2. Exit embraces democracy abroad and assists voice to develop internally.
3. Those who exit become voice.
4. Exit and voice increase in tandem.
After a careful analysis of each possibility, she argues convincingly for the latter. Migration and the internal opposition have progressively developed and are increasingly networked.
Recent events in Cuba support this conclusion. Cubans who visit the island reconnect with family, neighbors, and friends. Opposition groups have an increasing number of allies abroad in part because of the narrow-minded policy the island government has adopted, which offers former dissidents the option of serving jail time or migrating north. More significantly, the development of the internet makes political isolation virtually impossible. Thus, today dissident journalists publish their stories regularly in the web, opposition groups also have a presence there, and email communications have become almost the norm. All in all, I see a time in the future when researchers will give due credit to how increasing channels of communications between the Cuban community abroad and at home contributed to a more pluralistic and open society. After all, many scholars are doing just that now when they study the downfall of authoritarian regimes in the Southern Cone. One of the credits of this paper is to pioneer this line of research in the context of Cuba. In short, Silvia concludes that there is hope for the future of democracy in Cuba since both the Cuban exile community and civil society internally are pushing for pluralism.
This circumstance assumes that exile indeed reinforces democratic values. I think this has generally been the case. However, the jury is still out on the effects some counter-democratic events have had on the souls and minds of the Miami enclave where the majority of the Cuban-American community resides. In addition, many recent immigrants do not enjoy the same living standards and opportunities of previous immigration waves and it is entirely possible these immigrants may be somewhat disillusioned with the brand of market capitalism they have gotten to know.
These concerns aside, the paper offers many insightful points and a thorough analysis of migration. For instance, Silvia rightfully argues that Cuban migration is generically different from others. She interviewed a Spaniard restaurant owner in Valencia who confessed he lost his youth in the cold German winters while in exile. We Cubans, on the other hand, have Miami and when we grow tired of Dade County, have the option to move to Miramar—in Broward County, a few miles to the north.
Also, following Hirschman, my bias for hope unfolds from a different perspective. I would like to ask the question, can exit (migration) permit an alliance between the voice left behind and loyalty or the skeptical supporters of the regime? This possibility may sound far fetched to some. However, it is entirely possible if we consider three assumptions: (1) hardcore opposition leaders may migrate, leaving behind those more willingly to compromise; (2) for any successful transition to take place, supporters of the regime will have to play a role, as painful as it may seem; and (3) there may be no way out for the opposition and supporters but to bargain a transition. After all, coalition building has been an essential component in previous transitions. Hirschman himself describes, in another essay, how European migration once facilitated democracy in the continent2. There is also the element of demography here. The generation that follows those who carried the insurgency is always more eager to compromise.
In short, while not contradicting Silvia’s exceptional analysis, I vote for the inclusion of the loyalty in any future democratic scenarios in the island.
1. Included in this volume.
2. Albert O. Hirschman, “Exit, Voice, and the State,” World Politics, 1978.