After 50 Years of Restrictions, Cubans Hope to Travel Freely Communist Regime May Ease Rules on Emigration

By Haven, Paul | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

After 50 Years of Restrictions, Cubans Hope to Travel Freely Communist Regime May Ease Rules on Emigration


Haven, Paul, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


HAVANA -- After controlling the comings and goings of its people for five decades, communist Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to lift many travel restrictions. One senior official says a "radical and profound" change is weeks away.

The comment by Parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon has residents, exiles and policymakers abuzz with speculation that the much-hated exit visa could be a thing of the past, even if Raul Castro's government continues to limit the travel of doctors, scientists, military personnel and others in sensitive roles to prevent a brain drain. Other top Cuban officials have cautioned against over- excitement, leaving islanders and Cuba experts to wonder how far Havana's leaders are willing to go.

In the past 18 months, Mr. Castro has removed prohibitions on some private enterprise, legalized real estate and car sales, and allowed compatriots to hire employees -- ideas long anathema to the government's Marxist underpinnings. Scrapping travel controls could be an even bigger step, at least symbolically, and carries enormous economic, social and political risk.

Even half measures, such as ending limits on how long Cubans can live abroad or cutting the staggeringly high fees for the exit visa Cubans must obtain just to leave the country, would be significant.

The move would open the door to increased emigration and make it easier for Cubans overseas to avoid forfeiting their residency rights, a fate that has befallen waves of exiles since the 1959 revolution. It could also bolster the number of Cubans who travel abroad for work, increasing earnings sent home in the short term and, ultimately, investment by a new moneyed class.

Scrapping exit controls should win Cuba support in Europe, which improved ties after dozens of political prisoners were freed in 2010.

But several analysts said they doubted that new rules would bring about any immediate shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, which includes a ban on U.S. tourism. Those restrictions are entrenched and enjoy the backing of powerful Cuban American exiles.

Cuba-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said any discussion about immigration reform on the island is a peripheral issue. …

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