Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Dream of Leaving Cuba

The Dream of Leaving Cuba
Published: April 21, 2012


OUTSIDE the sun is blindingly hot, and in the immigration office 100
people are sweating profusely. But no one complains. A critical word, a
demanding attitude, could end in punishment. So we all wait silently for
a "white card," authorization to travel outside Cuba.

The white card is a piece of the migratory absurdities that prevent
Cubans from freely leaving and entering their own country. It is our own
Berlin Wall without the concrete, the land-mining of our borders without
explosives. A wall made of paperwork and stamps, overseen by the grim
stares of soldiers. This capricious exit permit costs over $200, a
year's salary for the average Cuban. But money is not enough. Nor is a
valid passport. We must also meet other, unwritten requirements,
ideological and political conditions that make us eligible, or not, to
board a plane.

With so many obstacles, receiving a "yes" is like hearing the screech of
the bolts pulled back on a cell door. But for many, like me, the answer
is always "no." Thousands of Cubans have been condemned to immobility on
this island, though no court has issued such a verdict. Our "crime" is
thinking critically of the government, being a member of an opposition
group or subscribing to a platform in defense of human rights.

In my case, I can flaunt the sad record of having received 19 denials
since 2008 of my applications for a white card. I left an empty chair at
every conference, every award ceremony, every presentation of my books.
I never received any explanation, only the laconic phrase "For now, you
are not authorized to leave the country."

But it is not only dissidents or critics who suffer these mobility
restrictions. Hundreds of doctors, nurses and health professionals whom
the government values too much to risk losing know that choosing those
professions means they will save lives but will be unlikely to see other
latitudes. They have seen their families separated, their children go
into exile, while they wait for the authorities' approval to leave. Some
wait three years, five years, a decade, forever.

The blacklist of those who cannot cross the sea is long, and though the
information is never published, we all know how the system works. And so
we don masks of conformity before the watchful eyes of the state, hoping
to achieve the cherished dream of crossing national boundaries. The exit
permit thus becomes a method of ideological control.

A few days ago Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban Parliament, told
a foreign interviewer that the government is studying a radical reform
of emigration. But we all know how the Cuban government utilizes the
euphemism "we are studying" to buy time in what could become a wait of

In reality, these same authorities are unwilling to give up this rich
industry that brings them millions of dollars a year in fees for
entering and leaving the country. The rumors fly but the locks never open.

A year ago, for example, as I was applying for permission to attend an
event in Spain, the news "broke" that Cubans would soon travel freely.
When I asked the official handling my request if it was true, she
sneered at me, "Go to the airport and see if they let you leave without
a white card."

That same afternoon, as I was issued one more denial, my cellphone rang
insistently in my pocket. A broken voice related to me the last moments
in the life of Juan Wilfredo Soto, a dissident who died several days
after being handcuffed and beaten by the police in a public park. I sat
down to steady myself, my ears ringing, my face flush.

I went home and looked at my passport, full of visas to enter a dozen
countries but lacking any authorization to leave my own. Next to its
blue cover my husband placed a report of the details of Juan Wilfredo
Soto's death. Looking from his face in the photograph to the national
seal on my passport, I could only conclude that in Cuba, nothing has
changed. We remain in the grip of the same limitations, caught between
the high walls of ideological sectarianism and the tight shackles of
travel restrictions.

Yoani Sanchez is the author of "Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell
the Truth About Cuba Today." This article was translated by Mary Jo
Porter from the Spanish.

21 April 2012

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