After much anticipation, it has finally happened. The Cuban government has done away with the need for an exit visa – essentially state permission – to leave the country. Bloggers, many of them from the Cuban diaspora, have been sharing their thoughts on this new development.
Havana Times (an on-island blog) provided a bit of context to the situation:
Cubans will no longer need an exit permit and an invitation from their intended destination to be allowed to travel.
The government of Cuban President Raul Castro had announced in mid-February plans to lift travel restrictions, which were among the reforms most longed-for among citizens of the Communist country.
From Monday, Cubans need only a valid passport and a visa from their destination country to be able to temporarily travel abroad.
Under the new legislation, Cubans will also be allowed to stay abroad for up to 24 months, compared with 11 months until now.
Further, migrants who have illegally left Cuba since 1994 will also be allowed to return.
It remained uncertain whether qualified professionals, such as Cuba’s doctors and its most prestigious athletes, would be allowed to travel abroad without restrictions. The same doubts applied to the country’s dissidents.
Such caveats have been drawing criticism from some diaspora bloggers, even though the move could mean easier visits between family members who have been separated by migration or exile. Babalu, for instance, was sceptical:
The Cuba news feed this morning was overflowing with reports on the supposed migratory reforms of the Castro dictatorship that went into effect yesterday on the island. For the most part, journalists are treating this event as a watershed moment in Cuba's 50+ year history of tyranny. This in spite of the fact the Castro regime still completely controls who can and cannot leave Cuba and there are no real indications the ‘reforms’ will reform much of anything. Nevertheless, the media does not need much prodding when it comes to touting the magnanimity of Raul Castro's dictatorship, and this questionable story is as good as any other questionable story on the Cuban dictatorship as an excuse to throw a party.
However, the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter took issue with a press statement by John McAuliff (of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, whom the blogger describes as lobbying “for engagement between the United States government and the dictatorship in Cuba”), in which he stated that “Cuba now provides greater freedom of travel to virtually all of its citizens than does the U.S.”:
With all due respect to Mr. McAuliff but the above statement is not borne out by the facts and would earn him the laughter of many Cubans. For example, Rosa María Payá was not allowed by the Cuban government to travel to Chile between January 8 through the 15th in Santiago, Chile. Its not only the Cubans that contradict his claim.
The United States government does not restrict doctors and athletes from traveling outside of the country. This is not the first time that the press and ‘Cuba experts’ have jumped on a Castro regime announcement while ignoring news that contradicts their optimistic assessment.
The post concluded:
Whether it is the issue of censorship or freedom to travel the regime in Cuba has made lots of noise but the underlying policies of control and repression remain intact.
The changes carried out by the Cuban dictatorship are new rules for the same old game: hanging on to power.
Capitol Hill Cubans, meanwhile, linked to a mainstream media article which suggested that there were unforeseen – and in all likelihood prohibitive – costs associated with the new migration law. Along the Malecon, however, was hopeful, and used a tweet by grounded dissident Yoani Sanchez (who has repeatedly been denied a travel visa) as justification for his optimism:
Cuba is evolving ever so slowly – certainly not fast enough for some – but it is changing.
The latest evidence:
Famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez says she will be allowed to leave the country and return, under new immigration rules that went into effect on Jan. 14.
Sánchez tweeted her delight:
Will this be our Berlin Wall that falls? I do not know!
One of the tweets the blogger was referring to is no doubt this update: