By Aurelio Pedroso
From Point of Maisí to Cape of San Antonio, Cubans are forming a frenzied conga line in search of Spanish citizenship, and very few people are writing anything about it. Tens of thousands of Cubans now want, nay, long to be Galicians, Asturians, Canarians. They are the grandchildren and children of Spaniards who at one time opted for living the good life on the island. The laws of “the Mother Country” are on their side.
When this story is told 100 years from now, it will require a very careful explanation, because future readers may think that their ancestors were seized by a virus present in the Asturian sausage or the Valencian rice.
Only the Catholic Church's magazine Palabra Nueva (New Word) opened its pages so that -- from a personal standpoint and with a little complacency -- one of my colleagues could broach the subject with a focus that I share fully.
Communist Party members have been told, quietly but firmly, that anyone who tries to become Spanish will lose his or her Party card. You're on your own. Cuban law does not accept dual citizenship.
So we're in a situation -- apparently not pleasant to many -- where half of Cuba wants to be Spanish. To such an extent, that the Spanish Embassy has had to set up a kind of consular branch at the old Lonja del Comercio to deal with the overflow of people who now want to be European. It has placed long rows of benches under the covered entrance to that well-known building, where the applicants can sit while waiting to be called. Just like the people who line up a short distance down the street for the bus to Güines.
Every Cuban government agency that issues birth, marriage or death certificates has been called upon to cope with the avalanche. They've all been overwhelmed because -- among other reasons -- the search for kinship is done manually, without the aid of a computer.
Some time ago, I learned that a Spanish ambassador had done some research (a bit questionable and without many convincing elements) that revealed that about 3 million Cubans might gain Spanish citizenship on the grounds of being descendants of Spaniards.
The diplomat may have exaggerated, but the truth is that the figure may turn out to be quite high. A simple look at the Havana telephone book will tell you that. You'll be hard pressed to find a surname that doesn't originate in a region of today's Spain.
I should have pointed out at the start that I respect everyone's choices, as they affect their views of life, politics, culture and even religion. In this case, my opinion -- because of my profession and for other reasons -- may be like a loose cannon. And for sure, a lot of compatriots will give me a dirty look.
What's happening is sad. The unwise, though justified, desire to leave the country has led many young people to rummage through their grandparents' bones, looking for a connection that will enable them to go away. Older people do the same, maintaining that it will better enable them to leave the country -- eventually.
The "Cubanness" that propels this avalanche toward Barajas International Airport has a native component. In the gardens of the Spanish Embassy or the consulate, you'll frequently find all kinds of offerings (or sacrificial witchcraft, as many of us call them) to accelerate the paperwork. I'm not kidding; just ask the gardener.
But the story goes beyond the gardens. Inside, as functionaries and employees open and study the applications, they occasionally find a white powder that sticks to their hands. It's not the notorious anthrax. It's ground eggshell, which, according to Santería scholars and believers, has more power to open doors than Houdini himself.
Such craziness should never have happened. In other countries with strong Spanish ancestry, the nationals have been more serene.
The authorities will have to embark on a long and difficult task to control this collective madness and stanch the bleeding, to keep Cuba from becoming the country with the largest elderly population in the entire continent.
Once and for all, they should suspend those medieval requirements demanded from citizens before they can leave the island. One of the most notorious is the exit permit, an obstacle whose removal the population has requested on more than one occasion.
Another argument that the ordinary folks make in a very peculiar way (much different from the way politicians and academicians phrase it) is that work in Cuba should really be an incentive that allows them to fulfill the needs that they can find -- or try to find -- in the plains of Australia, the frozen forests of Alaska, the stressful Madrid, or that alchemist's shop known as the City of Miami.
Far from what many might suppose -- and here goes my opinion -- the problem in Cuba, as it affects it citizens here, there and anywhere else, is not basically political but economic. Phrased in a way that doesn't please either side, the problem in Cuba is the economic policy.
Almost no one on the island is interested in a multiparty system, but everyone wants an economy that will encourage the creation of small and mid-size private enterprises or cooperatives whose members actually own the means of production.
Many Cubans now go to the once-forbidden hotels. Varadero this year has been a summer apocalypse. Cubans who receive remittances from overseas and Cubans who have legal access to freely convertible currency have taken over the famous resort. They've descended like locusts on the hotels with the “all-inclusive” fares and the Swedish smorgasbord tables. With time, many will learn to behave, and the man who took from a buffet table an entire bucket of ice cream (“because there's a lot of us”) will have to understand that -- as the waiter politely explained to him -- “you may take what you want, but place it in the right dish.”
In sum, this bit about the Spanish citizenship has a long way to go. It saddens me, though, when I hear some 50-year-old or 60-year-old who never left his hometown say: “Yes, I was born here but now I am a Spaniard.”
“Jodé con el tío!” I shout, to stay in tune with this mixture of castanets and conga drums, of rice 'n' beans and Serrano ham with tomatoes. If our grandparents arose from their eternal sleep, the story would be different. A lot of pride remains in this country. One is buried, the other is on the tip of our tongues.
Aurelio Pedroso, a Cuban journalist, writes for Progreso Semanal/Weekly. He lives in Havana.