Last year, Cuban president Raul Castro made a promise to his country that he would end the exit visa requirements for Cubans to travel outside of Cuba. Earlier this week, President Castro finally made good on that promise. Since 1961, Cubans have been required to apply to the government in order to leave the country. When this requirement officially ends in January 2013, Cubans will no longer need an exit visa to travel; instead they will simply need a passport and a visa from the country to which they are traveling.
Many Cuban citizens are optimistic about the change and are eagerly looking forward to the day when they can finally come and go from their country freely. This optimism is tempered with a healthy skepticism, however, by those who have pointed out that all current passport holders will need to have their passports renewed, and the government still controls to whom a passport is granted. Moreover, the decree still allows Cuban authorities the ability to deny travel by many Cubans for reasons of defense and “national security,” suggesting that dissidents may continue to face restrictions. So will doctors, scientists, athletes, members of the military and others considered key contributors to the success of the country, as well as those who face criminal charges.
Nonetheless, “It’s an important step forward in human rights, the ability to travel outside of your country without the government’s permission,” said Philip Peters, a longtime Cuba analyst at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute think tank. “It eliminates a horrendous and offensive bureaucratic obstacle to travel.”
Furthermore, the measure also extends the amount of time Cubans can remain abroad to 24 months , and they can request an extension when that runs out. Currently, Cubans lose residency and their rights to property, social security, free health care and free education after 11 months overseas.
President Castro implemented the change, among other reasons, to encourage an infusion of money into the struggling Cuban economy. The hope is that Cuban citizens will now leave the country to work elsewhere and ultimately return with their wages.
Do you feel this plan has a chance of working? Will the new “relaxed” requirements lead to a mass exodus from Cuba? Are citizens truly free to travel considering the government still gets to determine who will be granted a visa?