Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Many Cubans still going nowhere despite policy change

Many Cubans still going nowhere despite policy change
11/27/2012 • By LAURA PAZ

Cubans who have anxiously awaited any move easing restriction on foreign
travel are taking a wait-and-see approach.

HAVANA — 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. Gertrude, a 35-year-old
resident of the Havana neighborhood of Mantilla who declined to give her
last name out of concern for her security, welcomed no longer having to
produce a letter of invitation from a family member or friend abroad
before applying for an exit permit.

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

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. "We don't know how (the law) will be
interpreted ... concerning individuals who cannot obtain a passport for
reasons of defense and national security."

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.

"Perhaps the new laws are good, but I can't go anywhere," said Nelson, a
resident of Arroyo Naranjo. "I have no money."

Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba. Readers may write to the
author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net.


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