Cubans Finally Have Immigration Reform

Fernando Ravsberg*

Colonel Fraga said the spirit of the new law doesn’t seek to restrict people’s travel, but quite the contrary; he said they had received orders to minimize the number of people who will not benefit from the reform. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — It’s true that the economic reforms haven’t improved the country’s economy, but it’s also true that Cuban life is much easier than it was a few years ago. Changes in immigration policy have now been added to the greater flexibility that exists in almost all of society.

Life is less complicated when you can build or repair your home, buy cars and houses, stay in tourist hotels, buy a computer, get online in an Internet cafe or university, or start a business.

Colonel Lambert Fraga, the deputy chief of the Immigration Department, wouldn’t give me the percentages when I asked him, but he confirmed that as of now the vast majority of citizens can travel without having to ask permission from their government.

For decades, Cuban minors could only leave the country if their parents emigrated. Now they can travel on a temporary basis provided they have the consent of both parents – just like in the rest of the world.

There will be a percentage of people who will continue to have to ask permission, and the authorities reserve the right to deny the ability to travel for those who are undergoing criminal proceedings or are of age for military service, as well as for reasons related to defense or national security.

However, “Paragraph H” spells out that nor can people travel abroad “when, for other reasons of public interest, this is determined by the authorized authorities.” This legal curiosity fails to clearly establish what these “reasons” are or who are those “authorities.”

Such vagueness gives absolute power to functionaries over citizens. The current teacher shortage could be considered a reason of “public interest,” and the related ministry could feel itself to be the “authorized authority” to prevent a trip by an educator.

Another complex clause is “Paragraph F,” which excludes the right to travel by those without authorization “by virtue of norms established to preserve the skilled workforce for the economic, social, scientific-technological development of the country, as well as for the security and protection of official information.”

The reform puts an end to the cumbersome and expensive procedures to which Cubans were subjected in order to travel. Photo: Raquel Perez

The colonel assured us that all of the various public agencies — from the ministries to the Institute of Sports to scientific research centers — would have to submit lists within the next three months of those employees considered vital professionals.

These people will not necessarily be prohibited from leaving, but will need official authorization to travel abroad. The difference, according to Fraga, is that now each of these citizens will be informed in advance of the limitations implied by their responsibilities, job or industry.

The Washington Office on Latin America (a US organization that promotes human rights), described the reform as a significant and positive step, but it notes that “it’s not clear which categories of professionals still need exit visas or how many people will be affected.”

Also, US State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland is concerned because “the Cuban government has not lifted the measures currently in place to preserve what it calls “human capital created by the revolution.”

Apparently Washington wants to see even fewer restrictions in order to improve the functioning of its programs implemented to facilitate the emigration to the US of Cuban doctors working in third countries, with the obvious aim of depriving Cuba of its main source of income.

Nevertheless, Colonel Fraga assured us that the spirit of the new law does not seek to restrict people’s movement, but quite the contrary; he said they had received orders to minimize the number of people who will not benefit from the reform to the lowest possible.

I imagine that some Cubans readers are going to criticize me for trying to dig up flaws in this latest reform, and they might have a point. Despite its limitations, the fact is that never in more than 50 years have the people of the island had greater freedom to travel.

Cubans are looking for more information from immigration offices across the country. Photo: Raquel Perez

A call from London asked me to get different opinions from ordinary Cubans, but that was impossible; everyone I interviewed in the street considered this to be a positive step, even though it would only benefit a portion of the population.

The vast majority of citizens have recovered a right. So now — like the rest of the Third World — their biggest concerns are getting the resources to travel and getting a visa from a destination country that will allow them to get on the plane.

On the same morning that the changes in immigration policy were announced, people started thinking about this. One retiree, Carina Fonseca, told me about the money needed to travel, and Doris reflected at the door to the Immigration Department about how difficult it was going to be to get a visa.

They’re not wrong. When President Raul Castro announced that there would be changes to immigration, one Western ambassador told me that his country was studying what measures to adopt in Cuba to minimize the number of visas granted.

The difference from other Latin Americans is that the Cubans will always have the opportunity to travel to the US, where the Cuban Adjustment Act automatically grants residency to any Cuban citizen who steps on American soil.

Notwithstanding, the global economic crisis has also initiated a reverse movement. Colonel Fraga informed us that each week the immigration authorities in Cuba are handling the repatriation of an average of 20 emigrants seeking to return.
(*) An authorized translation by Havana Times originally published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

5 thoughts on “Cubans Finally Have Immigration Reform

  • Hubert, thanks for your critical but misguided comments.

    I have consistently defended HT as an open forum for all “legitimate” discussion. The term “legitimate” includes all points of view, even those that are openly disdainful of socialism, and are openly supportive of capitalism as a social system. The boring, one-dimensional views of Moses are included in this wide-range of opinions, as they must be.

    But Moses goes over the ethical line by doing such things as advocate that the US government send in a commando raid by Navy Seals to “liberate” a convicted criminal who is a US citizen. I demanded an apology on that one before I would exchange ideas with him further. He complied graciously, and we kept up a dialogue.

    But then he slobbered enthusiastically over the possible death of Fidel, and that–at least, as far as I’m concerned–went over the line. I don’t wish to comment on his posts, and I don’t wish for him to comment on mine. He has an incorrigible hatred of Cuban socialism, and of its historic revolutionary leadership. He does not converse; he hammers away incessantly at every possible weakness in the dyke, and speaks never a constructive word with regard to improving the way Cuban socialism works.

    I spoke wrongly in suggesting the he should not be allowed to “spew his vomit” via comments in HT. I take that back and ask to be forgiven. I was angry, and apologize. But we all deserve an apology from Moses for his personal death-wish for Fidel, and for the arrogant, CIA-like vomit that he spews out constantly.

    You have a right to ask any frequent HT commenter to desist from addressing you in the future. Should you invoke this right, it would not make you a Stalinist. The same right exists for me–although you, with your political political background, may not be able to appreciate the distinction.

    I trust Circles Robinson to maintain HT as an open forum for all legitimate discussion. He is an historically important, progressive genius. Any limits that he might enforce, Hubert, would most likely be appropriate and constructive. I think we should let it go at that. Cheers.

  • Grady,
    you cannot do that. If you run out of arguments against Moses, with whom I disagree about capitalism, in a public forum asking him to stop addressing you. You would have to stop posting first., As long as you use a public form, everyone has the right to reply to you.
    Sorry Circles, but I had to say this.
    You may be a cooperative person but your understanding of free speech is Stalinist. Besides, you could not stop pestering me over my support for a two state solution regarding Israel and Palestine.
    Grady, you suffer from a contradiction that cannot be resolved. You worship politicians who disregard and fear (!) your version of socialism. You act like having your cake and trying to eat it. Won’t work. When you talk about US politics I detect sour grapes.As a member of the cooperative movement in my country I have a lot of sympathy with your ideals. But the fact remains 90 plus percent of people in te US are not yet ready for your ideas.

  • The point is not what I can or cannot do in protest. The point is that we citizens of the US suffer “a lack of basic travel and spending rights,” and that the the US government has tried for over a half-century, as a horrific bully, to strangle this third-world country economically, as well as assassinate its leader repeatedly.

    You don’t see the difference because you’re a lap-dog of, and an apologist for the imperialist empire.

    I’ve stated that you are not to address me further. Please respect my wishes.

  • Grady, you can call or write your Congressmember and ask him or her to introduce legislation to repeal the Helms-Burton Act and it amendments. You can set up a website and start an international movement to improve US-Cuban relations. You call make a picket sign and march in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to protest US policy. You can do all of these things and much more to express your disapproval of how your government treats its neighbor to the south. If you were Cuban you couldn´t do any of these things in Cuba if you disagreed with your hero Fidel. Don´t you see the difference?

  • The freedom to travel is one thing; the money with which to travel is another. Even so, the new policy is a step forward, and I hope it works out for Cuba.

    What we need in the United States is the freedom to travel to Cuba, and the freedom to send money down there, or to take money with us down there and spend it as we choose. And so, as it turns out, it is US citizens who suffer a lack of basic travel and spending rights.

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