Permission to Leave Cuba (IV)

Irina Echarry 

Foto: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, March 14 — Before going to the Immigration Office to request her Exit Permit (the famous “Tarjeta Blanca,” or white card), my friend called one of those consumer information numbers in the Yellow Pages.

She wanted to be sure that she had all the documents that she was required to turn in. But the information they provided by phone wasn’t sufficient.

A first trip to Immigration was in vain. This was the one where the first question they asked was whether she had deposited her traveler’s check (meaning the voucher for 150 CUCs, or $165 USD, that had to be paid at a bank) in order to apply for her Exit Permit.

Since my friend didn’t have a permanent job with the government at that time, she was also told that she needed to get a letter from her previous workplace.

When she presented it, the official who attended her looked at her with disbelief.

“You’re not university graduate?” the woman asked, incredulously.

She couldn’t believe my friend’s negative response and was left standing there looking at her for a moment. Worriedly, my friend asked, “Do I need to bring in some kind of proof that I never graduated from college?”

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked that question, because the functionary responded saying that the letter from her previous job would have to be sent in through official channels.

“We can only begin processing your paperwork once we get that letter,” said the functionary.

All of us Cubans know how long administrative paperwork can take, but fortunately the staff at my friend’s previous job didn’t sit on their hands; they immediately provided the famous letter that declared she had no debts with her former employer and that she no longer worked for them.

However, they also told her that they didn’t do official mailings, so that she would have to hand deliver the letter to Immigration herself, which is what she did.

My friend returned to the immigration office in the Mañana neighborhood, where the official looked at the letter skeptically but finally accepted it.

Just when my friend started to think that everything had been worked out, the Immigration staff then “discovered” on the personal data page in her passport that she was a writer and belonged to the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), which meant she would need to provide the staff another letter from that organization.

“But a letter saying what?” she asked.

“A letter from UNEAC,” the woman replied.

“Yes, but one that says what? …that don’t I work there, or only that I belong to the organization?”

“Well, just a letter from UNEAC,” was all the functionary would say.

The dialogue continued like this for a while, with the official having decided not to say anything different and my friend having to leave in confusion in search for another letter.

It took her a few more days to come up with documents, one saying that she was member of the organization. She then turned it in, though she was still full of doubts – and for good reason.

“But both of these letters (the old workplace and UNEAC) are wrong. Neither of the two says you’re not a university graduate. You’re going to have to get new ones. Look, write this down, I’ll dictate what the two letters need to say,” she explained in an official tone.

My friend felt like she was in one of those movies with the good cop and the bad cop, only that in this case the official who had been the bad cop on the first three visits and only on fourth trip had she decided to be “good.”

Now, in the role of the good official, she told my friend that she would go ahead and interview her, asked such things like details concerning the person who had sent her the Letter of Invitation, that friend’s family, and if by chance she had ever worked at the Ministry of Health (which would have required a whole other process), etc.

There were only six days left until the date of the flight (assuming she received the elusive Tarjeta Blanca). But my friend cheered up when she asked how much time it would take if she brought back the “correctly” written letters. The good official responded, almost cheerfully and in very low tone, “If you bring them in early, I’ll give it to you the same day.”

She had to wait several more days, with each one full of anxiety, which is never easy to contain while looking for bosses who are needed for signing such “important” documents.

Once she got her correctly written letters, my friend returned to the Immigration Office under a cooling cloudburst. Two hours later another official handed her passport to her, along with a boarding pass, the Tarjeta Blanca and a smile wishing her “bon voyage.”

P.S. Many bad horror stories and mystery novels could be written about how people finally get their Exit Permits, but recently I found myself pleasantly surprised. A friend arrived at the Immigration Office one Wednesday where they told him that he could come in that Friday to pick up his Tarjeta Blanca – it was that simple. But you never know – it’s all at the discretion of the bureaucrats. 


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

Irina Echarry has 232 posts and counting. See all posts by Irina Echarry

4 thoughts on “Permission to Leave Cuba (IV)

  • it sounds like franz kafka´s “the trial.” the guy never finds out what he has done wrong or what the evidence is. there must be 5 million in the filipino diaspora. diasporas have a use apart from sending money home. people see and learn lots of good things in foreign countries. most of the tropical fruits grown inaustralia were my idea. i´d seen them in the philippines. an australian saw dragon fruit in vietnam which are from the caribbean area but have been in vietnam since french colonial times. it looks like a filipino has seen passion fruit and kiwis in australia because those fruits are now in the philippines. i believe that tropical fruits are one of the industries of the future and cubans should get into it. passion fruit don´t take years to grow, or kiwis which would grow in the cool mountains. passion fruit have a long shelf life and are light for airfreight. the world can´t get enough mangoes but mango trees take 5-6 years to be productive. organic berries and vegetables like coriander and roquette are light for airfreight in the winter to cold countries. the ministry of agriculture should do some research on these subjects. the french are growing cut flowers in cote d´ivoire and the dutch in china. the french, bulgarians and indians grow flowers for natural perfumes.

  • Jenny and Alfin: that is not a Kafka story, is the real life.

  • Yes, this reminded me of a Kafka story too…authority figures acting so arbitrarily it makes one think he or she is going crazy!

  • your writing is so much like a kafka character. have you read any of his books, in english or spanish. i could mail to you, if you say yes. b ye

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