Well hola Cubanos! With the announcement that we are about to swap a brace of Sri Lankan and other refugees for an equal number of Cuban and Haitians, John Howard is now clearly playing it for laughs. This deal is so multidimensionally strange as to beggar belief, exchanging an equal number of people at considerable expense, while giving them exactly what they want.
Let the word go out from this day forth, that if you’re somewhere in central Asia, the US just got a few thousand miles closer. Forget the green card lottery, this is, well, this is the green card lottery. Anyone having second thoughts about getting on a leaky boat just got a whole lot of new incentives.
The Cubans and Haitians currently rotting away at Guantanamo Bay get a card that’s not so much green as a get-out-of-jail-free card. US policy on Cuban and Haitian seagoing refugees — there are more of the latter than the former, contrary to news reports — is called ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’, which means if you make it to the US shore, you’re home safe, but if you’re picked up at sea, it’s Gitmo. This offer gives a whole extra incentive to making the journey.
But the most bizarre aspect of all has been the Prime Minister’s rationale for it. The prospect of being flown halfway around the world to an unfamiliar country with few cultural links to their homelands would deter Cubans and Haitians from risking the trip to the US, he said.
Now that is truly funny. So, you’re getting out of poverty or persecution in Cuba, or poverty and death squads in Haiti, and you’re thinking, hmmm, that’s all very well, but can I get a rum and coke in Sydney?
Few cultural links to their homelands? People chide us when we suggest that Howard is a little behind the times, but if he hasn’t noticed the huge Latin American community in Australia, then he’s spent too much time rote-learning Wisden in Bega. His deep parochialism can’t get his around the idea that Latin America sees itself as one civilisation, with individual differences, but profound and deep community.
But, of course, Howard is simply projecting his own pathetic small-mindedness onto other people. Despite the fact that Australia is now just another global suburb, Howard imagines that there are still cultural differences — that the Cubans will be unable to cope with his imaginary Australia of stewed lamb, Chips Rafferty and the six o’clock swill. Halfway round the world, Prime Minister? There is no ‘world’ in that wide-eyed sense. It’s all one big place — part of that globalisation you’ve been spruiking for a decade. That’s why there’s so many refugees — increasingly everyone feels at home everywhere.
I mean, the idea that people on their way to Miami will be dissuaded by a trip to Australia makes you gasp. Take a look down Surfers’, Bondi, St Kilda — mate, we are in Miami. Boy, John, when you lose the touch, you really lose the touch, don’t you?