Cuba ready to relax travel restrictions


Cuba will scrap much-reviled travel restrictions starting in January, easing most Cubans' exit and return, state media said yesterday, in the communist island's first major immigration reform in more than 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 will lift the requirement to obtain an exit visa permitting departure from Cuba and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country.

From 14 January, Cubans will have to show a passport and, if needed, a visa from the country to which they are travelling, Communist Party newspaper Granma said.

The changes are the latest reform under President Raúl Castro, who has modestly liberalised 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 required 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 Havana office worker Rafael Pena.

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

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