Are Cuba’s New Free Travel Policies For Real?

This past week, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, Granma, announced that as of January 13, 2013, Cuba will no longer require its citizens to apply for an exit visa. They will only have to show their passport and a visa from the country to which they wish to travel. Up to now, only certain well-known artists, musicians, authors and sports stars and other government favorites have been freely able to travel.

It is the most significant change to the law this year in President Raul Castro’s five-year plan of reform that has already resulted in legalization of home and car sales and a significant increase in the number of Cubans owning private businesses.

According to an AP report, “Granma published an accompanying editorial blaming the travel restrictions on U.S. attempts to topple the island’s government, plant spies and recruit its best-educated citizens.”

The AP report translates and quotes the editorial as saying, “It is because of this that any analysis of Cuba’s problematic migration inevitably passes through the policy of hostility that the U.S. government has developed against the country for more than 50 years.” The editorial stated that the Cuban government recognizes its citizens’ right to travel abroad and said the new measure is part of “an irreversible process of normalization of relations between emigrants and their homeland.”

The AP report quoted citizens who questioned the new law.

The article also states that a “letter of invitation from a foreign institution or person in the country they plan to visit” is no longer required.

The new provision itself states that not everybody is allowed to travel.  It says that doctors, scientists, members of the military and others considered valuable parts of society are still forbidden to travel.

I personally talked to a physician whose wife was permitted to travel last year.  He said he was forbidden to leave previously because he is a physician, and it is his understanding that he will remain unable to travel. The provision says that it must “preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent applied by the powerful.”

To leave the country, one has been required to obtain permission from the country to which the person would travel, and deposit a sum of money six months in advance of applying for the exit visa. The sum of money varied depending on the country to be visited. If the Cuban citizen did not return home, the money was retained by the government. Some citizens believe that the country receiving the person is entitled to part of the money, and that is why it varies.  This is unclear.  The new law says nothing about the need for a deposit.  A taxi driver in Havana told me today that he believes the deposit requirement remains, but that is unclear as well.

Regardless of whether the person is still required to post the deposit, they do have to have a visa or other permit to enter the country to which they wish to travel.  That certainly won't be any easier to obtain than it has been.  you can imagine that under the "Wet Foot, Dry Foot" policy of the U.S., it will not be inviting a number of Cubans to come to the U.S. if it is not certain that they will return to their homeland afterwards.  The U.S. is not going to be willing to further tax social security, Medicaid and other services for a number of people.  In fact, the U.S. Congress might even take the stance some time that with the "improvements" in Cuba, including the right to travel, Cuban citizens who find their way to the U.S. are no longer allowed to remain.  Does Raul Castro really believe opening the right to travel is going to result in an actual ability for the masses to repatriate themselves? We doubt it.

I have asked some other people on the streets, and am planning to ask others about their thoughts on this new issue.  I will post some interviews shortly.

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has reported many times that she has been turned down the right to travel 20 times over the last five years. She has been honored with awards and invited to participate in presentations, but has never been able to attend.

She wrote this blog on October 1, 2012: [Translated by her translators on her English-language blog.]

My suitcase has worn out its wheels in five years of rolling around the house, from one corner to the other. The underwear stored in the little thing has lost its elasticity and its color has faded. The airline tickets I never used are gone, after postponing them over and over they ended up in the trash. My friends have said goodbye to me so many times and so many times I didn’t go, that the farewell has become routine. The cat adopted as his own that handbag I never managed to take on a plane, and the dog chewed on the shoes meant for a trip I could not take. Nor did the picture my friend gave me of the “Virgin of Good Travel” resist the test of time and even the shine in her eyes has gone out.
After five years of demanding my right to travel outside the country, today I woke up to the news of travel and immigration reform. My first impression was to shout “Hurrah!” mid-morning, but as the day advanced I considered the shortcomings of the new law. Finally the objectionable Permit to Leave has been eradicated, as well as the annoying Letter of Invitation that we needed to leave our own country. However, now in the issuance and validation of passports they will define those who can cross the national frontiers and those who cannot. Although the costs of the paperwork will be less and I imagine the time required shortened, this is not the new travel and immigration law we were waiting for. Too limited, too narrow. But at least it has put in writing a legality as a starting point from which we can now demand, protest, denounce.
In my case I am going to believe – until January 14, 2013 – that I am not on any “black list” and that the ideological filters to leave have come to an end. I will fill out the application for a new passport, and wait with that dose of ingenuousness necessary to survive, to not become apathetic. I will be there when they open the doors to decide which Cubans can board a plane and which will continue under the “insular imprisonment.” And my suitcase will be at my side, with worn out underwear, unworn shoes, and a pale picture of Mary who no longer knows if she’s leaving or returning, if there are reasons to be happy or to be satisfied.”

Yoani’s blog can be seen at

Franklin Marquez, In Havana

Photos of Hurricane Sandy Damage in Santiago

Some photos of Hurricane Sandy damage have come out of Santiago de Cuba.

These photos are from El Parque Cespedes in Santiago de Cuba.  This is about a mile above the Harbor.  The white building in this photo is the Ayuntamiento, where Fidel Castro made his acceptance speech when he took over on January 1, 1959.  To the right, out of the photo, is Hotel Casa Granda.  The building to the left, where all the debris lies on the ground, is a church.

Following is a photo I took of the Ayuntamiento from my hotel room in Casa Granda a couple of years ago.

This is a view from the roof of Casa Granda to show here the building is in relation to the bay.

This is the Hotel Casa Granda.  The photos above show debris outside, but don't show the hotel.

This is the church, whose towers show up in the above photo, and outside which is debris.


Does it Matter if Fidel Is Alive or Not?

I started hearing new rumors of Fidel Castro’s death a few weeks ago, from friends in Venezuela and the U.S., and even in Spain. Then newspaper articles started popping up.  I thought it was amusing that the talk was going on as I was preparing for my next trip to Cuba.  I wondered what the people of Cuba would say about it.

This past weekend, the buzz has culminated with new “proof” that he is alive.  The Associated Press has reported that former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua stated he met with Fidel for five hours this weekend. He said Fidel even accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional on Saturday. That is the hundred-year-old hotel with two towers that stands on a small hill overlooking the Malecon in Havana. I was at that hotel for several hours on Saturday.  I wish I had seen the duo. But actually, the article does not indicate Fidel got out of the van.  And it says a hotel executive was in the van for a photo.  It seems to me a little odd that he would go for an outing, remain in a van, invite hotel personnel into the van to take photos, etc., etc. I also didn’t see a van, or people getting in and out of a van, or anything else like that. Well, maybe that is what happened. Who knows?  Who cares?

Reports state that the recent indications that Fidel was gravely ill were raised by Jose Marquina, a Venezuelan doctor in Naples, Fla.  He has now been quoted as saying he did not believe the story of the photograph in the van was real. 

Marquina is quoted as saying, "The information that I have is that it was a maid who claimed to have seen him. This is a fabrication. If you're going to believe the communists, who have been lying forever, that's OK. I don't believe them."

Now I’m almost embarrassed to be speculating and writing about whether he’s alive or not. Does it really matter? I doubt it.  Cubans have told me that they believe Raul is just as bad as Fidel, and even though he has been behind the recent improvements (improving socialism?), he is a dangerous tyrant, and nothing will change if Fidel is dead.

At the same time that the other discussions are going on, there have been news reports in Miami about what would happen if Fidel dies.

In a 2007 article, a Miami, Florida official was quoted as saying that when Fidel died, there revelers would be herded to the Orange Bowl in order to contain their enthusiasm.  A CNN article at the time, said, “A Miami official said his idea of holding an event at the Orange Bowl when Fidel Castro dies has been misconstrued. “It's not a party. It's not going to be a conga line, I promise you," said Miami city commissioner Tomás Regalado.”

But that article was also resurrected this week, with a new article: Mayor Tomas Regalado Zings the Marlins On Rumors of Castro's Death

The article said, “Remember how the City of Miami made some controversial plans to allow protesters to gather in the Orange Bowl when Fidel Castro dies? Yeah, well, the city has never updated those plans even though the Orange Bowl was demolished and replaced with the Marlins Stadium.”

Regalado was asked last week about the use of the new stadium that replaced the Orange Bowl, and he reportedly told the Miami Herald, "I don't think the Marlins would want that. Knowing them, they would charge to protest."  I wonder if he’s made a new enemy, by making such a statement about the Marlins.

The new article also says, “With rumors of Castro's health problems swirling, Regalado says that the city will update plans on how to deal with protesters in the event he finally kicks the bucket.”

I have asked Cuban taxi drivers and others what they think about whether Fidel is alive or dead.  Some know of the rumors. They say such rumors are nothing new. They shrug.  They don’t seem to think it would make any difference. 

Hurricane Sandy in Cuba

We are trying to learn how our friends and relatives in Santiago de Cuba faired Hurricane Sandy.  We have not been able to reach them. But that’s not surprising, considering they have no Internet and telephone service is sporadic.  I found some photos posted by the Baltimore Sun.  Several are from Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.

Franklin Marquez is Writing from Cuba Again

Friends and Followers of Cuba Libre Today.  I am sorry I’ve been a bit quiet here lately, but I have been active on Twitter.

I have just returned to Havana, Cuba for another visit.  When I can get Internet, I will upload some new items.

There are at least two things I want to talk about.  1. I am amazed about the changes I see in Cuba since a year and a half ago.  2. I am interviewing Cubans about how the people feel about the new elimination of restrictions on travel.  3. I am asking Cubans about the continuing  rumors about Fidel’s health, or death, or whatever. 

In the two days since I’ve been here, I’ve already taken almost 1,000 new photos.