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

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