HAVANA TIMES, August 2 (IPS) — Cuban President Raul Castro’s announcement of coming changes to immigration policy appears to be the result of repeated demands by the population for freedom to travel, a right ensnared for decades in the Cuba-United States conflict.
While he provided no details, Castro said progress was being made on reforming migration regulations, and added that the country was on the road to changing decisions that had a role to play at one time but that had “unnecessarily” lasted for too long.
The president’s remarks were part of a closing speech on Monday at a session of parliament, later broadcast on state television, in which he harshly criticized the dismissal of a female member of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba because of her religious beliefs and analyzed the economic situation.
He said the modifications of migration policy were aimed at strengthening Cuba’s ties with the émigré community, “whose composition has changed radically compared to the early decades of the Revolution,” in which the United States gave refuge to criminals of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship and encouraged professionals to leave, “to drain the country of its lifeblood.”
Castro said that the majority of Cuban émigrés leave the country for economic reasons, although “a few still claim to be victims of political persecution to win supporters and aid from their sponsors abroad”.
He clarified, however, that an easing of migration policy would take into account Cuba’s right to defend itself “from the interventionist and subversive plans” of Washington and its allies, and would include “reasonable counter-measures to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the talent theft applied by the powerful.”
The Cuban community abroad now totals some 1.7 million people. According to expert Antonio Ajá, professionals made up 12 percent of total émigrés in the last five years, “placing Cuba within current migration trends of theft and loss of important human capital.”
He said that while labor power was exported, the trend was not tapped for the country’s benefit.
The social benefits “of the value created by the labor force that emigrates from Cuba is limited to remittances sent from abroad and the various taxes applied” to these cash flows, Ajá said in an essay on the issue.
According to analysts, because of this reason and others, an easing of the regulations that limit Cubans’ right to travel abroad is called for. In the 1990s, the introduction of permits allowing people to live overseas, which made it possible for them to visit Cuba, changed the nature of emigration, which since the start of the Revolution had been seen as a permanent step.
But Cubans wishing to travel must have a “non-objection” letter from their workplace or school and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country. With these documents, they apply for an exit permit, known as the “white card”. Many travelers complain of the expenses involved.
“Last year I went to Panama to visit a friend. I don’t know how much she must have paid for the invitation letter, but here, I spent more than 200 dollars for the passport and papers. To top it off, sometimes they don’t give you the visa, and you’re left standing there with your bags packed,” one woman told IPS after hearing the president’s speech.
Castro said that Cuba is the only country in the world whose citizens are permitted to settle and work in the United States without a visa, by virtue of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, whose 1995 revision, known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy, encourages human trafficking and has led to the deaths of many Cubans.
An initial official recognition of the need for changes to Cuba’s migration policy was reflected in the economic and social policy guidelines approved by the Sixth Congress of the PCC in April. One of the articles of the guidelines provides for the consideration of a policy to facilitate tourist travel abroad by Cubans.
At the same time, one of the guidelines on foreign trade refers to a comprehensive strategy for exporting services that “includes a flexible analysis of the contracting of individual labor power.” According to official figures, about 50,000 Cuban professionals work in 76 different countries.