Saturday, September 22, 2012

If It’s Immigration and Travel Reform We’re Talking About

If It's Immigration and Travel Reform We're Talking About… / Miriam Celaya
Miriam Celaya, Translator: Unstated

Cuban television news just broadcast with undisguised joy the statements
of the U.S. president about the failure of immigration reforms in that
country. With images of Obama on the screen, although taking care, as
usual, not to directly broadcast the president's words, the Island's
media tried to discredit the "enemy" by highlighting another fiasco. It
turns out, however, that the authorities here continue to keep the most
hermetic silence about the essential immigration reforms in Cuba which —
according to what Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the National
Assembly, said many months ago — "are being studied." This is, without a
doubt, a most complex study, to judge by its length.

Meanwhile, Cubans on both shores continue to be forced to apply for
demeaning exit and entry permits in our own country, pay monthly fees to
our consulates in the countries we visit (if we want to have the right
to re-enter the Island, always remembering that we are allowed to be
gone only 11 months and 29 days), and pay ridiculously high amounts for
the most stigmatized passport on the planet. Because in the end, have
you noticed how much scorn the border authorities look upon us island
slaves when we travel? Note: I've only traveled outside of Cuba twice,
in 1999 and 2002, and on both occasions I noticed that glance.

In principle, every Cuban who aspires to travel goes to the offices of
Immigration and Foreigners, a weird name for an institution that deals
mainly with Cubans who, in significant numbers, want to emigrate.
Shouldn't it be called the Department of Emigration and Cubanness? There
the extortion we all know begins: You must come up with 55 CUC for the
fabrication of a passport which expires in six years and must be renewed
every two, raising the full cost to 95 CUC without any benefit to the
aspiring traveler. If you're lucky enough, you'll only have to spend 150
CUC more to get an exit permit — the infamous white card — and finally
you'll have to pay a 25 CUC tax at the airport when you leave. The
paperwork, in its totality, costs a fortune* for ordinary Cubans. In
most cases such expenses, and the passage, is paid by family and friends
living abroad, who — for their part — have to pay unconscionable amounts
when they decide to visit the Island.

In short, you as a Cuban pay for the fabrication of the world's most
expensive passport, a document that will serve almost exclusively for
the Cuban government to capture some juicy hard currency without having
to invest in anything more than cardboard, ink and the paper it's made
from. With this passport you will not only extend your condition as a
slave beyond the boundaries of the hacienda, but will also contribute —
like it or not — to nourishing the coffers of the very system that
humiliates you. Of course, I'm not suggesting renouncing travel, but I
do suggest that perhaps while the authorities are studying the
"migratory reforms" perhaps they could go ahead and apply some just
modifications. It occurs to me that, since they are the only
beneficiaries of the use of the passport by travelers, at least they
should include some of the "freebies" of the system. It would be curious
to establish the first "subsidized passport" in history in Cuba. This
would not change anything in our condition nor turn us in to citizens
with freedom of movement, but at least it would to some extent diminish
the immense crust of cynicism of the Cuban authorities, something
they're in great need of.

*Translator's note: The total cost is more than a year's salary for the
average Cuban.

September 21 2012

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