Cuba lifting much-reviled travel restrictions

 

Cuba will scrap much-reviled travel restrictions starting in January, easing most Cubans' exit and return, state media said on Tuesday, in the communist island's first major immigration reform in half a century.

The Cuban government imposed broad restrictions on travel starting in 1961 to try to stop a mass migration of people fleeing after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

The government now is set to lift requirements to obtain an exit visa permitting departure from Cuba and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country.

Instead, starting on Jan. 14, Cubans will simply have to show a passport and, if needed, a visa from the country to which they are traveling, Communist Party newspaper Granma said.

The changes are the latest reform under President Raul Castro, who has modestly liberalized Cuba's Soviet-style economy. They are sure to please Cubans who have chafed at the country's travel restrictions.

The process of obtaining the needed documents has been time-consuming and expensive, with no guarantee at the end that the government would grant permission to leave.

The difficulty in travel has helped fuel charges for years that freedoms are limited in Cuba.

"There have been many expectations for many years about a new travel law. It's a big step forward that will save us money and simplify the process," said office worker Rafael Pena as he headed to work in Havana.

Prominent dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has complained repeatedly about being denied travel permits by the authorities, said she would test the lifting of restrictions as soon as they take effect. She said there may still be some obstacles to traveling abroad.

"My friends tell me not to get my hopes up about the next immigration law," Sanchez said. "They say I'm on the 'black list' but I'm still going to give it a try."

Some analysts described the travel move as a dramatic step forward.

"This is truly important for the future of revolutionary Cuba," said Hal Klepak, a Cuba expert who is a professor of history and warfare studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.

The changes are part of work "to update the current migratory policy adjusting it to prevailing conditions in the present and foreseeable future," Granma said.

The measure extends to 24 months, from the current 11, the amount of time Cubans can be out of the country without losing rights and property, and they can seek an extension, Granma said.

In theory, the changes should make it easier for Cubans to not only travel but to work abroad and return home when they are ready. But they will still have to obtain visas from most countries.

Granma said restrictions would still be in place for some people, likely to include doctors and other professionals who Cuba does not want to leave.

"Those measures aimed at preserving the human capital created by the Revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations shall remain in force," it said.

"The long-awaited travel measure brings a modicum of rationality to what had long been an enormous source of political discontent," said Julia Sweig, a U.S.-Latin American policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington.

"Once the United States stops its policy of inducing Cuban doctors to defect, perhaps they, too, will enjoy such freedom," Sweig said.

"This reform responds to the Cuban population's highest priority wish to be able to leave and return to the island freely. It not only gives Cubans greater autonomy but it also offers the promise of a more vibrant economy, with more remittances sent from abroad, and more Cubans engaged in both exit and return," said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington group opposed to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

"Like earlier decisions legalizing the personal sales of homes and cars, this is another step in the direction of loosening restrictions and opening up Cuban society," she added.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine