Cuba lifts travel restrictions


THE CUBAN government is to lift despised travel restrictions which have prevented millions of Cubans from leaving the communist island for more than half a century.

Instead of requiring a hard-to-obtain exit visa – the notorious white card – Cubans seeking to travel will in future require only a valid passport and an entry visa for their destination.

The announcement was made yesterday in Granma, the newspaper of the central committee of Cuba’s communist party. The paper said the changes would come into effect on January 14th and were part of an adjustment to reflect “current and future circumstances”. The paper said Cubans would also be allowed to spend up to 24 months abroad for those travelling for “personal reasons”.

Commenting on the changes, the country’s high-profile dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez posted on Twitter: “In the streets everyone speaks of the new Migratory Law. They celebrate with a murmur, saying everything with their eyebrows and hands.”

Earlier this year Mrs Sánchez was refused permission to travel to Brazil to attend the screening of a film in which she participated. It was the 19th time the authorities denied her requests to leave the island.

But the relaxation of the law will not immediately benefit all Cubans. Granma said the country would keep in place measures “to preserve the human capital created by the revolution, in the face of the theft of talent practised by the powerful”. This raises the possibility that many of the country’s highly trained specialists will still face travel restrictions.

Many Cuban professionals, such as doctors and engineers, are denied exit visas until after their retirement. The European-based Cuban dissident group Cuba Democracia Ya (Cuba Democracy Already) dismissed the reform as “insufficient and a reform tramp” arguing that Cubans will still require a valid passport from authorities before travelling, meaning a “migratory filter” will remain in place.

The restrictions have been in place since 1961 when they were imposed to halt a mass exodus of qualified people fleeing the island in response to the radicalisation of the Cuban revolution which declared itself socialist that year.

More than 1.5 million Cubans have left the island since the Cuban Revolution took power in 1959. Most have headed to the US, which is home to 1.8 million Cubans with other smaller communities scattered across Latin America.

The most dramatic migration took place in 1980 when 125,000 people fled to the US during the Mariel boatlift. President Fidel Castro authorised the exodus to relieve tension during an economic crisis which saw 10,000 Cubans seeking asylum in the Peruvian embassy. Dr Castro took the opportunity to empty the country’s jails and mental institutions, expelling their inmates along with the refugees.

The US has a restricted entry programme for Cubans wishing to visit or settle there.