HAVANA TIMES — Recently, my friend and fellow Havana Times writer Alfredo Fernandez wrote a post titled Let the Skies Fill with Airplanes. With his rich style as a commentator, he responded to a thoughtless remark made a while back by Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the Cuba’s National Assembly of Popular Power.
Alfredo was referring to an absurd response given by Alarcon to Eliecer Avila, a student at UCI (the University of Computer Science), when the parliament leader was visiting the school a little over four years ago. The student had raised questions about Cuba’s restrictions on international travel.
The young man touched a nerve center concerning one of the civil liberties of Cuban nationals that has been restricted for decades: the right to travel, to get know other parts of the world by choice.
As we know, the options for Cubans to leave the country are reduced to:
– Permanent relocation for family reunification (mostly to the United States)
– Leaving after marrying a foreigner
– Departing to serve in foreign aid missions and development work in other countries
– Competitions or events (usually sports related)
– Upon receipt of a letter of invitation from friends, relatives or foreigners living abroad
– And finally — sadly enough — by illegal departures (which have cost many lives)
This list excludes choices by any individual who saves up to travel outside the country. That right has been denied us and has resulted in inhabitants of the island coming up with all types of means imaginable to leave the island.
Even though resistance to such a right is inexcusable, all the leader of the nation’s parliament could say was that “if everyone traveled, the skies would be filled with airplanes,” and then we’d be talking about airplane accidents.
Nonetheless, as the country is making efforts at an updated version of its own perestroika, migration policy is one of the elements that must also change.
Since the last Communist Party congress, certain hints were made in this regard; they also promised to touch on these at the subsequent Party Conference (eight months later), but to date all decisions around this issue have remained pending, meaning the only thing that people can do is wait in great anticipation.
There has still not been any official announcement concerning the enactment of new laws regarding this matter, but it has been leaked that in meetings with party activists and with agents of State Security that in the coming days the media will be reporting the status of the updated laws.
A silent euphoria surrounds Cubans who imagine themselves obtaining passports, applying for visas and buying tickets to see the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East (with all of this of course depending on their budgets and the approval of visas by the embassies or consulates of the countries they wish to visit).
Although the financial precariousness of Cubans may not leave them much choice but to save for years to be able to travel to nearby islets here in the Caribbean, and while even that might sound like a pipe dream, it doesn’t matter – they’ll be happy to know that they won’t need a Carta Blanca (exit permit) or have to wade through the tons of red tape at the immigration office.
I don’t think we are going to be the ones who “fill the skies with airplanes,” though we could end up filling the lobbies of embassies in Havana.
The lines there might come to remind us of the Peruvian embassy in 1980, but not with hoards of desperate people begging for political asylum. Rather, they will assemble calmly and logically — as it should be — with people only asking for a visa to travel.