While rummaging through my mother's family photos in Cuba, I found this proof of my 'participation' in the March of the Fighting People. In May 1980 I was six years old. I can barely remember the March, which is nonetheless documented in this certificate. I vaguely remember marching alongside my father near the outbuildings of the sugar mill where we lived. But my only real memory of that day is feeling a certain tension as we marched past the house where my grandparents lived along with my uncle, who was about to leave the country as one of the 'Marielitos' who emigrated from Mariel boat harbour that same year.
The official slogans of the March were 'No blockade! No Yankee base! No spy flights!', but what people chanted was 'Let the scum leave!' The enemy was imperialism, of course. But the events staged throughout the country also singled out the enemy among the local people: the more than 10,000 Cubans who had occupied the Peruvian Embassy in April 1980 seeking political asylum; the more than 125,000 who would leave from Mariel harbour in the weeks that followed.
In the chapter 'Que se vaya la escoria' (Let the Scum Leave) of the crucial research compiled in the book Cuba. El socialismo y sus éxodos (2013), Armando Navarro Vega writes: 'As well as the exiles in the Peruvian embassy, the Cubans being claimed by relatives abroad, the political prisoners who were being evacuated in accordance with the agreements signed in 1978, and the deported criminals [...], the Cuban government also offered Cubans with criminal records, or those who engaged in behaviour that could be considered anti-social, inappropriate, or contrary to revolutionary morality and principles, the "opportunity" to be accredited as "scum" by the National Revolutionary Police Units, and thus have the possibility of leaving the Island from Mariel. It soon became known that people who claimed to be homosexuals (mainly men) or prostitutes, were leaving quickly, and that that it was not necessary to have any kind of criminal record. It sufficed to present a "report" from the CDR or to sign a self-incriminating legal declaration, and to agree to grotesque police requests to "walk from here to there" so that the swaying of the hips would betray the sinful sexual preferences of the declaring party.'
The editorial of the first issue of the art and literature magazine Mariel – which was published from New York and Miami between 1983 and 1985 by a group of Cuban writers and artists who had left the country through Mariel harbour, and directed by Juan Abreu, Reinaldo Arenas, and Reinaldo García Ramos – claimed that: '... the reality is that the huge burden of human unhappiness and terror that weighed upon the Mariel refugees was eclipsed by the simpler situation of a tiny number of them: those who had been driven to crime or madness by the same leader who was irresponsibly expelling them.'
From the scene of expulsion to a lure, the port of Mariel has now become one of the government's major assets for boosting the economy 'by attracting foreign investment.' It is a free trade zone for manufacture, import and export, able to accommodate very large container ships, even those that cannot cross the Panama Canal. The website for this Special Development Zone of Mariel openly states as one of its advantages the fact that it is located in the 'future Nicaragua Canal', a project promoted by the government of Daniel Ortega, in which a Chinese company is to be given the right to build the Canal and manage it for one hundred years. This construction project, which has been praised by Raúl Castro's government, is being implemented in spite of the active opposition of social movements and environmental groups, and of the thousands of farmers whose lands are threatened with expropriation and whose protests have been brutally repressed.
In Cuba, the announcement of the Special Development Zone of Mariel was accompanied by a new foreign investment law that defines potential investors as 'natural or legal persons with a registered address and capital' abroad. This group will be able to hire manpower through an 'employment agency' with the specific aim of 'providing and controlling the workforce'. This State-owned company would manage the remuneration of Cuban workers, who have no labour protection frameworks such as independent trade unions. In contrast, the new Mariel offers investors numerous guarantees and tax incentives.
With its sights set on this State capitalism, the ZED Mariel website features a map in which numerous lines converge on Mariel. It is an image of a connecting harbour, but it is no longer the movement of people that is at stake (as it was in 1980), but the movement of capital. And in any case, migration has also been one of the main sources of subsistence for the stagnant Cuban economy, particularly through remittances. Exiles may be called upon as 'investors', but never as political subjects. Although this also applies to Cubans who live on the island, where political 'participation' is conceived in terms of occupying the designated place in the official parade. For this reason –for the way in which it interpolates us today– I endorse the open letter in which Tania Bruguera called for participation on 30 December 2014 at Plaza de la Revolución, and her claim for 'the right to be political beings, not just economic entities.'
In Cuba the eighties began with a big splash: the Mariel exodus and the emergence of a new generation of artists who had been educated in the Revolution, and whose works produced at the time barely show any sign of the country's biggest migration crisis –and family, emotional, and social crisis. It is curious to note that the decade ended with another exodus, that of the same generation of artists. Paradoxes. At the age of six, I participated in a march that demanded 'Let the scum leave!' At the age of twenty-five, it was I who marched out of the country.
Translated from Spanish by Nuria Rodríguez Riestra