Cuba’s Citizens Freer Movement

Fernando Ravsberg

Cubans boarding a train. (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES, Dic 1 — The recent reform of the law that limited migration from the provinces to the capital seems a step in the right direction, though it still doesn’t completely respond to the spirit of the constitution entitling Cubans to live wherever they see fit.

In any case, we have to recognize that it’s far more flexible than the previous law, whose application is said to have led to the deportation of tens of thousands of citizens [from Havana] back to their places of origin, mostly in the eastern provinces.

The memories I have of those days are not fond ones. I recall running from here to there trying to cover stories about the eviction of “illegal” families. In the outlying Diezmero neighborhood, residents protested and the police backed off, though not after leaving behind a kicked-in door, furniture lying out in the rain and children crying.

“They say we’re illegal, but we’re not illegal in our own country,” explained distraught community members. I thought they were right, legally and morally, because those who come from the eastern provinces are the grandchildren of the men and women who fought most forcefully against the Batista dictatorship.

It’s logical for a government to try to achieve a balance between the populations of the cities and the countryside, the social consequences of uncontrolled migration can be seen in any stroll through the favelas throughout Brazil, the cantegriles in Uruguay or the callampas of Chile.

Still, even granting this need for balance, repression never provides lasting results. It only attacks the effects, leaving intact the initial social problems that gave rise to them. The government can “repatriate” thousands, but they’ll return if the living conditions in the provinces are not improved.

The majority will have less and cheaper immigration paperwork. Photo: Raquel Perez

Very few people would even initiate such migratory adventures if they could find comparable opportunities in their places of origin.

A good example would be the Varadero beach resort; no one wants to migrate to the capital from there, despite it being a provincial town.

The Right to Travel Abroad

Cubans are also hoping for a new policy with regard to foreign travel, one with procedures that are more flexible, cheaper and rational. Above all, people want to see a policy based on rights expressed and codified in the law rather than the discretionary authority of officials armed with semi-secret regulations.

It’s said that some regulations will disappear, such as the requirement for a “letter of invitation,” through which a foreigner — even if they are a criminal, as long as they’re foreign — must become a type of guardian of a Cuban who wishes to travel.

Odds have it that we will also see the elimination of the permiso de salida (exit permit), which currently gives the government the right to decide whether citizens can travel. In the future, control would be realized using a computer program, a tool that’s more effective than the endless paperwork presently required.

It’s speculated that the majority of Cubans will be issued a passport that will “enable” them to leave the country at any time, while those in the military and other very specific groups will be required to go through the old procedures.

The issue of Cuban professionals will be much debated in the search for solutions that combine the individual interests of university graduates with the collective economic needs of the society that provided them training.

The state doesn’t want to lose its professionals after paying for the costs of their education; but then too, no college degree should become a life sentence, no matter how strategic the knowledge of a person.

Cubans migratory movements will be controlled by computers. Photo: Raquel Perez

It seems that the most likely option will be to ask medical professionals — doctors included — to work for a minimum amount of time in Cuba to compensate the nation for what it has afforded them, after which time they will be free to come and go like any other citizen.

Another important step being debated is the possibility of minors traveling abroad temporarily. Up until now, children and adolescents have only been able to leave Cuba if their parents were permanently emigrating.

This is a sensitive issue because what’s still vivid in the minds of many Cubans is the memory of “Operation Peter Pan”, through which the US government, the anti-Castro opposition and the Catholic Church airlifted 14,000 children from of the country without their parents.

Travel restrictions in Cuba exist within the context of the 50-year confrontation with the United States. In fact, Washington continues to maintain specific policies to encourage the emigration of Cuban doctors serving in other nations.

It’s true that the revolution is not only what its leaders decide it should be; it’s also what its enemies force it to be. Still, it’s all something quite different from trying to convince Cuban citizens that immigration policy is necessary to prevent air-traffic congestion around the world.[*]

A Havana Times translation of the Spanish original published by BBC Mundo.

[* – “If the entire world’s 6 billion inhabitants could travel wherever they wanted, air-traffic congestion would be enormous…” replied the president of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, responding to a question in 2008 concerning the right of Cubans to travel.]

One thought on “Cuba’s Citizens Freer Movement

  • Also very important is the right for Cubans who are outside Cuba to return as they like and to simply come and go as is normal in any other country for any Cuban. The government should have never restricted migration of people in any way also the elimination of all the fees charge to come and go and of visiting family members. Immigration should never be a cash cow for any government. It should be in line with the rest or the majority of the international community.

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