Cuba-Travel: Conforming with the Possibility

Dariela Aquique 

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — I heard an interview with a young musician on a television program where he said, “We who have had the possibility of traveling.” This made me think about something that’s almost taken for granted here: For Cubans, traveling (like many other things) is only a possibility.

Possibility is the ability or the option to doing something possible. It indicates a circumstance that may occur, but doubt is implied. Possibility and probability are synonymous to the degree that they both contain uncertainty.

As we know, Cuban immigration laws have been atypical for half a century. The requirements that a Cuban who wants to travel must meet are onerous.

These include:

1 – receiving a mandatory letter of invitation, the price is between 150 and 200 convertible pesos (CUCs), in the equivalent amount in US dollars or euros. [100 CUCs is roughly $110 USD]

2 – obtaining a passport, costing about 55 CUCs.

3 – requesting permission to leave (the “carte blanche”), which costs 150 CUC.

4 – paying for a medical checkup (in cases of permanent relocation outside of the country, especially in the US), which costs around 400 CUCs.

5 – paying the departure tax or “pase a bordo” (which must be paid at the airport) 25 CUCs.

These are only the requirements of the Office of Immigration (Oficina de Inmigracion y Extranjeria); which are added to other requirements and other costs (such as certifications of birth, marriage, divorce, criminal background checks, military discharge, documents from the Office of Housing, etc.), with each case according to the proposed type of travel, whether temporary or permanent.

Usually the processing time of the bureaucratic paperwork takes longer than it should, forcing Cubans who are eager to travel to come up with certain monetary “gifts” for the employees of these offices in order to expedite the processing. The final approval, whether this is to visit relatives or tourism, is subject to the discretion of the immigration authorities – meaning that their response is not always positive.

The government claims to be working on the relaxation of the current immigration policy that prevents citizens from freely leaving the island. However, nothing concrete has been proposed with respect to this, despite this being one of the reforms most wanted by the population.

One Cuban parliament member, Deputy Luis Morlote, explained: “Before issuing any proposal, the National Assembly must first analyze the impact, conditions and context of changes in the current immigration model that has been in place for the past fifty years (…) The proposal is being analyzed while taking into consideration the complexity of the issue, since we’re not talking about just any country.”

This he followed up with the issue of the US’s Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans to obtain residency if they set foot on American soil. He also spoke about the impact of the brain drain on the island and finished off by saying that Cubans are leaving mainly for economic reasons and not political ones. Yet, despite his pretenses, he didn’t rule out a mass exodus.

They are taking their time to change their laws because mass exodus is a distinct possibility, as has been and remains to this day the right of all Cubans to travel, for whatever reason or wherever they might go.

Everything is a set of possibilities. That Cuba changes should be a fact, suffice to be satisfied with the possibility.


3 thoughts on “Cuba-Travel: Conforming with the Possibility

  • I count among my closest friends several “cuentapropistas” or self-employed business owners. The biggest daily problem they face is the uncertainty in finding supplies for their business and the certainty of a quarterly tax obligation. The corrupt inspectors and the unlicensed competition are also issues to be overcome. It appears that the Cuban regime wants the economic gains which come from increased tax revenues and lower state payrolls but are resisting giving up control that comes along with a growing population of economically independent business owners. In Mexico, there was no such conflict. Mexican businesses grew and continue to grow relatively unfettered by politics. They face other serious problems like intimidation by drug cartel members but government intrusion is not one of them. You are correct that the small steps taken in Cuba should help. The problem is that the steps are very small, the problems are very big and the time to save the revolution is running out. By the way, Cuban businesspeople are no more highly educated that Mexican business people in terms of the specific knowledge one needs to run a successful pizza business, or a barbershop, or to sell clothesin the doorway or repair cell phones. That mechanical engineering degree is largely irrelevant if you sell ice cream from a cart.

  • Moses, don;t you think that the relaxation of private business laws will help them economically… thus slowly opening the doors for increased foreign cash and an increase in economic development and infrastructure. If they continue to take these small steps I can see the same thing happening with Cuba as you had mentioned about Mexico. The only difference being that the Cubans are very highly educated. What do you think?

  • Ten years ago, Mexican emigration to the US reached an all-time high. Last year, the number of legal and illegal emigrants entering the US from Mexico dropped to historic lows. Why the change? Did Mexican immigrations change its travel and immigration laws? Not in the least. What changed is the economic possibilities for Mexicans in Mexico. It should be noted that most of the Mexicans who left Mexico for the US were from the least-educated and poorest communities. Therefore the least likely to benefit from economic improvements in Mexico. Yet, they are choosing to stay in their country. Those who leave Cuba for the US tend to be from the opposite end of the econmic spectrum. In other words, they would be the first to benefit from economic growth in Cuba. Should Cuba instead focus on improving conditions for Cubans who live in Cuba, the fear of a mass exodus or brain drain would be unmerited. If Castro made Cuba a better place to live, immigration policy would be a non-issue.

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