“Cubans Aren’t Fleeing, They’re Traveling”

Isaac Risco (dpa)

HAVANA TIMES — One of the most-awaited legislative changes took place in Cuba in 2013 following a historic reform implemented by Raul Castro’s government, which eliminated the exit permit Cuban citizens needed to travel for decades.

The measure adds to numerous reforms being implemented by the Castro administration in recent years, the last of which came this Thursday, when the government announced it would make it easier to purchase a new or used vehicle from the State.

The migratory reform that came into effect on January 14, however, did not prompt the massive exodus some had feared abroad. Rather, more than 220,000 people benefited from the lifting of this travel restriction that had applied to most of the population.

“Cubans aren’t fleeing the country, they are traveling,” Deputy Chief for Cuba’s Immigration and Foreign Affairs Head Office Lamberto Fraga underscored in October, drawing a balance of the situation.

Travelers included several opponents of Raul Castro’s government who, for the most part, faced no obstacles to exit or enter the country.

“This is the trip that is going to change my life in many ways,” said the renowned, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez on returning to Havana in May this year, following a much publicized, multi-national three-month tour. Her trips abroad have since become a kind of silent routine for Sanchez.

Members of the opposition such as the leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas were also able to travel abroad. One of their destinations was Miami, the capital of anti-Castro exiles.

Only medical doctors, the military and high-ranking government officials face a number of travel restrictions.

Upon announcing the reform in October of 2012, the government reserved the right to continue restricting travel by individuals who are considered of “vital” importance to the country, in order to prevent a “brain-drain” it holds the United States most responsible for.

Around 35 percent more Cubans had traveled abroad by the end of October this year in comparison to 2012. The total number is over 226,000 travelers. According to official statistics, 57 percent of travelers returned to the country during that period.

One of the factors which have prevented a massive exodus from Cuba, the only Communist Party regime in the Western Hemisphere, is the restrictions established by destination countries. Like the majority of Latin Americans, Cubans require a visa to travel to most countries around the world.

The new migratory legislation is one of the most significant changes brought about by Raul Castro’s government during the market reform process of recent years, which, among other things, has authorized different forms of private initiative. As a result of these reforms, Cuba currently has more than 442,000 “self-employed.”

The great reform planned for 2014 is the elimination of the two-currency monetary system which has existed since the 1990s. In October this year, the Cuban government declared it would announce a “timeline” detailing the steps to be taken to put an end to this system, today considered a burden on the country’s economy.

Two currencies have existed in Cuba since 1994: the Cuban Peso (CUP), the currency all State salaries are paid in, and the Convertible Peso (CUC), which maintains a parity with the US dollar and has 24 times the purchasing power the CUP has.

The two-currency system divides the population into two parallel worlds separated by a growing social gap. While the majority of Cubans earn salaries or receive pensions in CUP, those who work in the tourism industry or the emerging private sector or receive remittances from abroad have access to CUCs.

“The two-currency system constitutes one of the most significant obstacles in the way of the nation’s progress,” Raul Castro acknowledged in July this year.

The existence of two currencies prompted the appearance of “two work ethics”, University of Denver Cuban-American scholar Arturo Lopez Levy explained.

Lopez Levy told DPA that, while the CUC economy is linked to material work incentives, the CUP economy is “associated to the sacrifice of teachers, health professionals and others, as well as to over-employment, low purchasing power and laziness.”

Raul Castro has shown optimism over the ability of the reform process to bring about profound changes “in terms of salaries and pensions, prices and tariffs, subsidies and taxes.”

Analysts believe the monetary measure will require a transition period of up to 24 months to become effective. It is speculated the reform will consist in the valuation of the CUP and the gradual disappearance of the CUC. “By necessity, the process cannot take longer than a few years,” Lopez-Levy explained.

The scholar is hesitant to express optimism over the reform. “The elimination of the two-currency system is not the cure-all that will put an end to Cuba’s economic problems,” he pointed out.


16 thoughts on ““Cubans Aren’t Fleeing, They’re Traveling”

  • January 2, 2014 at 7:15 pm
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    Identified only as a Denver based academic, Arturo Lopez-Levy is in fact a self-professed “former” Intelligence Officer in Havana’s dreaded Ministry of the Interior (MININT). He is also a cousin of MININT Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul Castro’s son-in-law and head of GAESA, the regime’s business monopoly.

    Anything he says on the topic of Cuban economics and trade must be viewed in that context. He is speaking on behalf of the Cuban regime and the corporation which profits from powerful family connections.

  • January 2, 2014 at 5:09 pm
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    We do need the embargo to be lifted, that way my “communist” & “socialist” cuban government can freely get credit from capitalist countries.

    Please…

  • December 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm
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    Do you know even a single Jamaican who has left Jamaica for the US? Well, I know several. They remained well-connected to their homeland. They vote in national elections, they visit as often as they can and the ONLY reason they leave Jamaica is because they can live better in the US…sort of. Still, there is no animus between Jamaicans who live in Bed-Sty in Brooklyn and their family in Kingston. Your attempt to minimize the exodus taking place in Cuba with a comparison to the natural migration in Jamaica is childish.

  • December 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm
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    Yes, all that money was remittances direct from people in the US direct to people in Cuba. Neither government was involved.

    I know you think that the US government should have taken that money from the people who earned it and given it direct to the Cuban government. We are thankful things do not work that way.

    I have never been aware of a US government promise to spend 3% of GDP on aid to poor countries. Can you cite a source?

  • December 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm
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    The money that comes to Cuba from the USA comes in from remittances sent by private individuals with the exception of relatively small money that is sent in by US government agencies to subvert the revolution .
    The U.S . long ago promised to spend 3% of GDP in aid to the poor of the world. It actually gives .07 of 1% .
    Denmark and I believe the Netherlands are the only two countries to give the full 3% .
    And ,yes that is still a pile of money given the size of the US GDP but none of that pile of money is given to Cuba by the government since it would run directly counter to the pronounced purposes of the embargo ( War On All The People Of Cuba) to immiserate the population until the socialist ideals of the revolution were given up.
    If you have facts or sources that say otherwise, I would appreciate your posting them .
    Thanks.

  • December 22, 2013 at 8:35 am
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    You are so right! Cubans like my wife, who have lived outside of Cuba for many years but maintain their citizenship rights because she visits Cuba at least once a year and pays a fee to the Castros for every month she is outside the country are considered “Travelers” and not immigrants. Yet, trust me, she and many, many of her Cuban friends have no intention of returning to live in Cuba. Ever!

  • December 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm
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    Okay, maybe so. But when the wall came down, it was the “Ossies” clamoring to get to West Berlin. The point remains, there was no embargo and yet people wanted to leave.

  • December 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm
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    “Traveling” a new euphemism employed by the Cuban government. It means leaving and staying away for a very, very, very long time.

  • December 21, 2013 at 2:13 pm
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    Moses, that is the story most Americans were indoctrinated with about the DDR. It’s only half true. East Germany was a victim of substanial terrorism, sabotage, espionage from the west and economic bleeding from West Berliners taking advantage of cheap prices in the East. I lived in Berlin in the 1980 and took the U-Bahn over (under) the wall often. It is a lie taht most Ossies were discontent and wanted to leave.

  • December 21, 2013 at 1:01 pm
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    The article stated that approximately 110,000 Cubans go to the U.S every year and remain there..
    Opponents of Cuba’s state socialism and the revolution in general point to this as indicative of the deep poverty afflicting Cuban society due to the socialist style economy.
    This 110,000 per year is out of a population of 11 million.
    What then could be said of the Jamaicans fleeing their capitalist heaven for the U.S at the rate of 75,000 a year out of a population of only 3 million ?
    Bob, you should know full well that the “wet foot-dry foot” clause of the CAA was purely intended to force Cubans denied legal travel to the U.S to take to unsafe craft and risk their lives to reach dry U.S. soil, thereby making it appear as they feared for their lives in Cuba, thereby embarrassing the Cuban revolution .
    It was put into place for no other reason and certainly not for humanitarian reasons .
    I agree entirely with your last paragraph .because IMO ,only the end of the U.S War On The People Of Cuba will bring about improvement in the economy and in bringing true representative democracy (Poder Popular) back to life
    .That will happen about the same time as when the U.S becomes a seriously impartial actor in the Israel-Palestinian situation: the distant future. IMO

  • December 21, 2013 at 2:12 am
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    If the exodus of Cubans were mostly the poor and uneducated, which is more typical of third world immigration, the remaining middle and upper class Cubans could buckle down and work their way out of this downward demographic spiral. Instead most “escapees” tend to be younger and of working age. They also tend to be middle or upper class and educated. Cuban is left poorer, blacker and less educated. In today’s global economy, Cuba is moving toward and not away from a more atypical “third world” profile. Also, due to the “triumph” of the revolution, senior citizens are living longer and demanding greater state resources in meeting their health care and housing needs. Despite Isaac Risco’s attempt to put a positive spin on this years travel facts, the reality is his efforts are akin to “putting lipstick on a pig”.

  • December 21, 2013 at 1:58 am
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    Lifting the embargo will do little to stem the ever-increasing tide of young people leaving Cuba. It is the lack of opportunity in Cuba that motivates Cubans to leave. Even with the embargo, if these young people could earn a living wage, or buy a decent home, many would choose to stay. There was no embargo against East Germany and yet the Communists needed to build a wall to keep people from escaping. It is the Castro regime and NOT the embargo that fuels this exodus.

  • December 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm
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    Deva: Do you know which country is now contributing the most to keep Cuba’s economy afloat? Hint: it is no longer Venezuela. Another hint: it is only 90 miles away.

  • December 20, 2013 at 7:13 pm
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    The Cuban government says 57% of the travelers have returned, implying that the other 43% are still “in transit”. The US government says that 20% of the Cubans visiting the US by terms of all visas end up staying by terms of the ultra-liberal Cuban Adjustment Act or “wet foot – dry foot” policy. That equates to “fleeing” not “traveling” in my book.

    I personally believe Cubans are fleeing for better economic conditions, not political reasons. Unification of the two Cuban currencies will have a minor effect on their national economy, thus a minor effect on those fleeing.

  • December 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm
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    THAT FOR CUBA NEEDS THE EMBARGO TO STOP! THEN WE WILL SEE and have an opinion on the changes…

  • December 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm
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    Contrary to the title of this essay, Cubans are indeed fleeing the island, and at an increasing rate.

    Some 46,662 Cubans left the island legally and permanently last year, the largest migration in a single year since 1994, according to figures from Cuba’s National Statistics Office. Since 2002, the number leaving has hovered around 30,000 annually, making the last 10 years the largest exodus since the start of the revolution. That’s in addition to an estimated 7,000 to 19,000 who leave Cuba illegally each year — some by boat and many with the U.S. as their final destination.

    Unless and until the Cuban government makes the necessary changes that will convince young Cuban people to want to stay on the island, this exodus will continue toward an inevitable demographic collapse.

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