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.