Monday, October 23, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American

Dear Cuban-American,

Lets us dream for a second. If Castro and his cronies were to be replaced with a true democracy in, say the next five years. What percentage of the Cuban folk now in America, would you estimate go set up a new life in Cuba? We know that investors would probably flock to the island nation, some possibly even staying to live there. The rich folk, for example actor Andy Garcia, might go down and get himself a hacienda and travel between the U.S. and his hacienda, but what about the regular folks? Would those that go, have to become Cuban citizens? Could they be dual citizens? What would be the implications should such a scenario occur?

Lets take you for example. You are probably an American citizen, would you consider starting a new life in Cuba? As an American citizen, would you be allowed to buy property there, work there, etc…. Would you have to give up your American citizenship and become a Cuban citizen? What about the Cuban people that have endured Castro all these years, how would they feel seeing all those that fled now coming back. Would they be resentful? What percentage of Cuban-Americans have never lived in Cuba? Really, they are Americans. Would they be resented or welcomed? How would all this play out?

A bewildered dreamer.

Dear Dreamer,

Let’s start with the questions for which there is empirical data. According to the Pew Research Center, the census bureau estimated that that there were 1.4 million people of Cuban origin living in the United States in 2004 of which 912,000 were foreign born (meaning born in Cuba or some other country) with the balance having been born in the US. It’s safe to say then, that 2/3 Cuban-Americans are Cuban-born. About 60% of Cuban-Americans are American citizens.

As far as staying in the US or returning to Cuba is concerned a recent Bendixen survey of Cuban-Americans living in South Florida indicates that the vast majority of Cuban-Americans will continue to make America their home even after democracy and freedom are restored:
Q: If freedom and democracy were re-established in Cuba, would you return to Cuba to live or would you stay and live in the United States?

A: Stay in the US (80%), return to Cuba (13%), DK/NA (7%)

If you look at the median of Cuban-Americans it’s easy to see why this would be. The median age for Cuban-Americans is 41. Which is old in comparison to other Hispanic groups and even the general US population. Most Cuban-Americans put down significant roots here. Their children were born here, their grandchildren are being born here.

It should be noted that Sergio Bendixen the pollster that conducted the survey believes that many Cuban-Americans will return to visit and many others will try to help in the reconstruction of Cuba but still maintain permanent residence in the US. Which brings us to the heart of your questions.

Let’s talk about dual citizenship. My understanding is that the US government doesn’t officially recognize dual citizenship but that many US citizens are recognized as citizens or subjects by other countries. For a pretty in-depth discusssion of dual citizenship check out this site.

Some countries do not allow you to renounce your citizenship and I believe Cuba has always been one such country. My parents are both American citizens but Cuba would still recognize them as Cuban citizens today. By extension I am eligible for Cuban citizenship even though I was born in the US because I am the son of Cuban citizens. The real question is: what will a democratically elected government of a free Cuba do (if anything) vis-à-vis these policies? There’s a good chance that they will do nothing to change them. Those types of policies are pretty common around the world.

Whether foreigners will be eligible to own land in Cuba is another matter that will have to be determined by future Cuban governments. Many countries including the US allow for foreign ownership but some do not. My personal economic philosophy is that there is nothing wrong with it and it should be legal but I recognize the history of Latin America and how easy it is to demagogue this issue.

As far as people like Andy Garcia or any other wealthy Cuban-Americans living part time in Cuba goes, I think the same policies will apply to them as to any Cuban citizen. For the record Cuba is third world country today and much of the infrastructure from the 1950s is under severe disrepair. I mean you’re talking about sewage problems, dengue fever outbreaks, etc. etc. I don’t know that, in its present state, Cuba is a place for wealthy people to set up winter homes. A whole lot of work will need to be done to fix the infrastructure. I see the big industries of Cuba in the years to come being construction, telecommunications, and media.

My personal desire would be to go to Cuba and help in whatever way I can. My expertise is in Spanish-language advertising so I think there will be some use for me. Cuba has great graphic designers, writers and creative people but there is no commercial advertising like in the US and there will be a learning curve. I’ve seen case studies of similar scenarios with eastern European countries that had very primitive advertising industries immediately after the fall of the iron curtain.

Will I live in Cuba? Probably not, at least not initially. But I live in Miami, which is less than an hour’s flight from Havana. Hell, I presently work for a Boston based ad agency in Miami. Whenever I need to, I get on a plane and 3 hours later I’m at my desk in the John Hancock tower. So telecommuting and actual commuting to Cuba is not beyond the realm of possibilities.

And lastly. How will Cubans react to Cuban-Americans? Unfortunately Cubans have been taught to fear and hate Cuban exiles known as gusanos (worms). Many of them think we’re all going to take over the island and kick them out of their homes. But like everything I think this will pass shortly. The Bendixen poll I quoted earlier had some analysis of this issue.
Q: Do you believe that residential and dwelling properties in Cuba should belong to those who have title to that predating Fidel Castro’s Revolution?

A: To those who have a title to that property predating FidelCastro's Revolution (20%), To those that live in them now (67% ), DK/NA (13%)
I think Cuban-Americans will have to opportunity to prove that their intentions are good in short order. For the record, almost unanimously you hear accounts from Americans that have traveled to Cuba claiming that the Cuban people are so warm and friendly to Americans. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is to some. Cuba and the US have had an intertwined history dating back hundreds of years. Cubans have historically had an affinity for Americans and vice versa.

In short, I am optimistic that all Cubans (regardless of their country of birth or length of time abroad) will find a way to make it work for everyone. There will be bumps in the road, you don’t erase 47 years of terror and repression without them, but I’m optimistic.

Thanks for allowing me to dream as well.

Note: This feature is rip-off of the wildly successful “Ask a Mexican” column written by the very funny Gustavo Arellanos.

If you have a question for this future Cuban advertising mogul, send it via email.

1 comment:

Gustavo said...

The Mexican says: I love how the questions are flooding in like a bunch of Cubans on a truck converted into a boat!