Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Permission to Leave Cuba (The First Step)

Permission to Leave Cuba (The First Step)
February 15, 2012
Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 15 — People had told her that the process and
paperwork were killers*. What's involved in leaving Cuba temporarily or
permanently is not what one wants to think about most when you decide to
take such a step.

Yes, like all the big decisions in life, when traveling to another
country or visiting friends or relatives beyond the sea that surrounds
us, one has to be prepared for anything.

I have a friend who wants leave to be with her girlfriend for more than
one month. (You should already know that she isn't Cuban and that one
month is the duration of a tourist visa here). They want to be together
without the pressure of those 30 short days hanging over their heads.

The first step is for her to get a passport.

It's simple. She only has to save 55 CUCs ($60 USD) and make the trip to
the Provincial Immigration office. The office that serves the area where
she lives is located in a district with a pretty name: Mañana (Tomorrow).

Who couldn't like a name like "Mañana"?

But you can head out to Mañana one morning and only get there by the
next morning if you don't have your own car or the money to rent one.

The closest bus stops several miles away, meaning you have to walk…and
walk…to find the office hidden at the end of a street.

Several private businesses abound, ready to see to the needs of those
who come to do the paperwork required by the immigration officials.
Someone will ask if you want to buy stamps, another will offer to take
your passport-sized photo, while yet another man leaning against the
fence near the office will tell you all about his taxi service.

The office is a two-story house with a covered patio where about 100
people are waiting – seated and standing.

To apply for a passport you must fill out a form and then attach a photo
and the two stamps bought at a bank for a total of 55 CUCs (1,375 pesos
in regular pesos).

Since filling out forms had never been an easy for her, she went over to
the first of the houses that provide the service for typing out forms.

A woman who looked something like a schoolteacher was situated behind
one of those old Russian machines. She proceeded to ask her name, date
of birth, political organizations to which she belonged, if she had
relatives living outside the country, the political affiliations of
those living in her home, the last place where she worked, where she was
traveling to and for how long…among other details.

A few weeks earlier our traveler had stopped working for the government.
She had the idea of ??sitting down to write another novel (something to
which she has devoted almost all of his life).

She told the woman that she was a freelance writer and photographer. But
— since she was only too well aware of what a uniformed officer would
think of that kind of profession (a freelance or independent writer is
almost always synonymous with being a "mercenary") — she quickly added
that she was a member of the official Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

She then paid the 20 pesos owed to the woman behind the typewriter, who
advised her to make a copy of the filled-out form; just in case she had
to come back on another occasion, that would "speed things up," she

She didn't discuss the matter with the typist, she was in too much of a
hurry to turn everything in, only to hear: "Oh, what a miracle! Her
passport will be ready in less than a week."

At least the first step has been made.

Next comes the consulate (of the country she wishes to visit).

The question is whether she can overcome that strange apprehension (as
she told me) that envelops all of us when we decide to go to a foreign
embassy or consulate?

To be continued…

(*) If you're not Cuban, you can't imagine what it means to try to visit
someone in another country. Perhaps from any third world country it is
legally difficult to make a trip to another similar nation or to a rich
country, but I bet that in our case, here on this island, it's twice as
hard. Through the following account, in several parts, I'll try to give
you an idea of what happens when you are Cuban.


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