By Laura Paz
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Starting in January, Cubans will no longer need an exit permit to leave the country. The move, announced Oct. 16, marks a significant shift in government policy.
But even Cubans who have anxiously awaited any move easing restriction on foreign travel are taking a wait-and-see approach before judging the significance of the new rule.
They note, for example, that the cost of obtaining a valid passport — still required to travel abroad — has nearly doubled, from 55 to 100 convertible pesos, or the equivalent of $100. That represents five months’ wages for many Cubans.
And, they note, the government retains the right to refuse to issue anyone a passport.
Still, the news was warmly greeted by some. Dora Mirtha, who lives in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality of Havana, said, “I feel almost free” after hearing the news.
Some suspect that lifting the restrictions will open the floodgates of emigration. Over the past 12 years, only 940,000 Cubans were authorized to travel abroad as private citizens. Of that number, 120,000 did not return.
Independent journalist Alfonso Odelin suspects the authorities will continue to limit foreign travel by restricting access to new passports.
“We have to wait and see who qualifies when they apply for or are updating their passports,” he said.
Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a local human-rights group, agreed that the situation would remain the same, with the authorities retaining “absolute control” over who enters or leaves the country.
And for the majority of Cubans, lifting the restrictions doesn’t really mean much.
Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba. This article first appeared on a website maintained by The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization in London that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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