Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cuba Eases Travel Restrictions, But Not For Everyone

An Opening in the Cuban Curtain

An article in Associated Press and published in The Globe and Mail says that the Cuban government has announced its intentions to remove certain travel restrictions, primarily the need to apply for an exit visa and produce a letter of invitation, thus giving many Cubans the ability to travel to their primary destination, the United States.
The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it will no longer require islanders to apply for an exit visa, eliminating a much-loathed bureaucratic procedure that has been a major impediment for many seeking to travel overseas. A notice published in Communist Party newspaper Granma said Cubans will also not have to present a letter of invitation to travel abroad when the rule change takes effect Jan. 13, and beginning on that date islanders will only have to show their passport and a visa from the country they are travelling to.

"As part of the work under way to update the current migratory policy and adjust it to the conditions of the present and the foreseeable future, the Cuban government, in exercise of its sovereignty, has decided to eliminate the procedure of the exit visa for travel to the exterior,” the notice read. The measure also extends to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can remain abroad, and they can request an extension when that runs out. Currently, Cubans lose residency and other rights including social security and free health care and education after 11 months.
 Still, the notice said Cuba plans to put limits on travel within unspecified sectors. Doctors, scientists, members of the military and others considered valuable parts of society currently face restrictions on travel to combat brain drain.
Exit visas are a way to control travel. The lifting of travel restrictions, for some of the many Cubans who desire to leave the island nation, is a positive step for the communist regime now headed by Raul Castro, who took over the reins of government from his ailing older brother Fidel in 2006; and it shows that gradual changes are the norm for the authoritarian regime.

Yet the easing of travel does not go far enough, says Cuban dissident Elizardo Sanchez in a Los Angeles Times article: “The government is admitting that people have a right," said Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. "But with so many limitations and hindrances, in practice thousands of Cubans will be excluded and discriminated against.”

You can read the rest of the article at [Globe and Mail]