I asked Oswardo, who is a Cuban citizen, living in Havana, about the new changes to the law regarding ability to travel, to become effective in January. He is very enthusiastic about the changes, much more so than I had expected. He says many in his country are just as excited.
He said, “I think the new travel laws are the best thing that has happened in over 40 years. ”
He recites how complicated, expensive, time consuming, and virtually impossible for the masses, any kind of travel has been until now, and how much simpler it will be under the new law. He explains certain aspects of how a temporary visit outside the country will be easier, while leaving permanently will still be complex. But, under the new rules, he feels confident that one can do that as well.
Oswardo explains the Letter of Invitation. “Until now, an immediate family member (mother, father, brother, son) living in the country to which a Cuban wished to travel had to issue a document called the Letter of Invitation, inviting the Cuban. This letter cost 200 dollars (which is about ten times what a working Cuban citizen makes per month). The Letter of Invitation requirement is eliminated under the new law.
Under the prior law, after a Cuban citizen received a visa or other document from the government of the country to which a Cuban wished to travel, he or she would have to submit an application for permission to leave the country. The government of Cuba would take a long time to determine whether or not to issue this document, and charge a fee of $150. Many people never received it before the visa expired, or were denied outright. Certain public figures like musicians, authors and sports figures were issued the document, but they would generally receive it only if they were outspoken proponents of the government. Dissidents were denied.
In addition to the above, before a most countries would issue a visa to a Cuban, they required a cash deposit. Oswardo explained that the amount of the cash deposit “depended on the country to which one wanted to travel. Venezuela required 1,000 CUC [roughly $1,000 American dollars]. The deposit had to be made in the bank a minimum 6 months in advance. Other countries require more. Countries like Spain and Italy required 5,000 CUC and 7,000 CUC. To obtain a visa from Mexico, one had to show a bank account, but no dollar amount or period of time.” He also said neither Ecuador nor Chile required a deposit. The U.S. does not have such a requirement because it gives visas to Cubans very cautiously. Once a Cuban goes to the other country and does not return to Cuba, the deposit is lost.
In addition to the cash requirement, one had to disclose real property owned by the one wishing to travel or by a family member. If one leaves and does not return, the government apparently still takes their property.
The changes in Cuban law do not of themselves affect the deposit requirement, since it is a rule from the country to be visited. But Oswardo says “as soon as the new law was announced, Venezuela dropped the $1,000 requirement, although it still requires some bank account.”
Oswardo says now all one needs from the Cuban government is a passport, and the passport will be issued if there is a visa from the other country.
Dissident Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied the right to travel numerous times, has pointed out that the government may cut back on issuance of passports. She is skeptical that she will really be able to travel. But Oswardo did not have that concern. Oswardo explains that “the cost of a passport increases from $55 to $100 under the new law.”
He also says if one has permission from one’s work, one can remain outside the country for three months without losing his or her job, and one can remain outside the country for up to 2 years without losing any rights.
Oswardo says under the new law, travel will be, “really like anywhere in the world.”
I asked about the special occupations that are excepted from the new, open law. He said, “Before, if a doctor wanted to travel for pleasure the doctor could not do it, and if the doctor wanted to leave Cuba permanently, I would have had to wait between 5-15 years for permission.” He said, “Now if a doctor or anybody wishes to travel temporarily, he or she may do so by requesting permission from his or her work, and to be able to leave permanently, one must wait between 1-5 years maximum to live in another country.” [I am not so sure that the special rule regarding doctors is quite as liberal as Oswardo thinks.]
Another area that changes under the new law according to Oswardo is the need of Cuban citizens living in other countries to obtain an Entry Permit to visit Cuba. He says under the new law, they only need a visa, like any other traveler to Cuba. Up to now, a Cuban returning to his homeland could remain in Cuba for only 90 days, but he says they under the new law, the Cuban could remain almost 11 months.
He and others indicate there are further tweaks to the new law, to be announced soon.
He acknowledges that it is still expensive for Cubans to travel, if their income is the $20 to $30 paid by the government. But many people will “sell their homes and property to pay for the trip and take money to start in other countries.” He says that with the new financial reforms allowing businesses, “Cubans will now be allowed to travel to buy cheaper goods in other countries and return to resell them here.”
He says because of all these changes, “many people are happy with the measures, which are very liberal; the bans were removed in their entirety.”
The day after the changes were announced, he wrote on Facebook, “Last night was a great night. New immigration measures met my expectations and those of the majority of Cubans. At last we can perform procedures like any other citizen of the world without much bureaucracy and be free to come and go as we like. It is not perfect, but compared to 50 years of absurd laws, in my opinion I think is a remarkable improvement. What I like is that those who have family members who left illegally can return to see their family here in Cuba freely because they are allowed to come for visits. Cubans who are scattered throughout the world, for one reason or another, we can finally meet in the land that gave birth to all Cubans. For me, it will be a unique experience and relevant. For the first time in my lifetime I see a strong blow to the bureaucracy, it was necessary.”
Many news sources are not as supportive of the new law changes as Oswardo. They says the Castro government is still just gasping for air. Other news articles on the subject include: