The Curse of the Cuban Passport

Carlos Lazo  (Progreso Semanal)

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban passport is one of the most problematic documents that Cubans residing abroad have to deal with. In this connection, the range of complaints among émigrés encompass economic issues (because of how expensive requesting or renewing this document is) and even juridical and practical ones (the fact they must enter Cuba with this passport, even when they have acquired citizenship elsewhere).

The Cuban government, which has implemented measures aimed at updating its migratory policies in recent years, should make obtaining a passport an easier and more pleasant process. It should also not request the said document from those who, having secured citizenship in another country, carry a passport issued by their adoptive nation.

There are even a number of inconsistencies in Cuba’s migratory regulations as regards this last point. The regulations for those who were born in Cuba and obtained citizenship in another country are not uniform. For instance, Cubans who left the island before December 31, 1970 (and have citizenship elsewhere) do not require a Cuban passport to visit the country.

This provision, which has been in effect for many years, demands, however, that those who left Cuba after 1970 present a Cuban passport to enter the island (even if they hold a different nationality and passport).

What is the logic behind these regulations? Why the divisive line between those who left before and after 1970? Why are certain Cubans permitted to enter the country with the passport issued by the country where they became naturalized citizens and others not?

There are no easy answers to these questions. The bureaucratic reasoning that links the passport requirements that apply to Cuban visitors to the date in which they left the country isn’t clear, particularly because the cut-off date takes us back more than four decades. Perhaps this aged rule (which decides what passport is to be used by the island’s Cuban-born visitors) had a clear function in the past. What’s clear is that this measure needs to be reviewed by Cuban authorities and updated, if needed. In short, it must be brought in step with the interests and needs of the nation and its émigrés.

What is the logic behind these regulations? Why the divisive line between those who left before and after 1970? Why are certain Cubans permitted to enter the country with the passport issued by the country where they became naturalized citizens and others not?

A book I read some time ago can be of use to us as way of a conclusion. In one of his stories, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano tells us about the “bench guard.” Galeano narrates how, for over 30 years, soldiers were ordered to stand guard, day in and day out, before a small bench in a military barracks. No one knew why, but the soldiers stood guard throughout the day, every single day. Year after year, the officers handed down the orders and the soldiers complied with them.

According to the story, no one questioned this or asked why the bench had to be guarded – not once in thirty years. If soldiers were being ordered to stand guard beside the bench, there was a probably a good reason for it. One day, someone thought to ask about the reasons behind that guard duty, which did not seem to serve any purpose. After much inquiring, it was discovered that, 30 years before, an officer had instructed a soldier to stand guard beside the bench (which had been painted that day) to keep people from sitting on the fresh paint. No one had taken the trouble of changing the orders afterwards.

I suspect something similar to the “bench guard duty” could be happening in connection with this regulation. This archaic (and seemingly arbitrary) migratory statute which restricts the use of other passports by Cuban-born travelers should be reviewed. Perhaps there was some kind of justification for it at one point and, after several decades, no one even remembers what it was anymore. Right now, those orders don’t seem to make much sense. Therefore, they should be modified, updated or given a fresh coat of paint – and with one that dries quickly.

(*) Carlos Lazo is a teacher working in Seattle, Washington. During the Bush administration, he became renowned as the Cuban-American combat doctor who served with distinction in Iraq. He was denied the possibility of visiting his children in Cuba owing to the travel restrictions that the Bush administration was using to keep Cuban-Americans from visiting their families on the island.

15 thoughts on “The Curse of the Cuban Passport

  • I understand it was allowed in the constitution of 1940. Currently Cuba operates under the 1976 Constitution (as Amended to 2002). Not recognizing the changes made by the Castro regime is a political choice, but Cuba is run under the later constitution right now (even though the regime itself doesn’t respect the constitution they created). As such this is the law:
    “ARTICLE 32
    Cubans may not be deprived of their citizenship except for legally established causes. Nor may they be deprived of the right to change it.
    Dual citizenship shall not be allowed. Consequently , when a foreign citizenship is acquired, the Cuban citizenship shall be lost.
    The law establishes the procedure to be followed for formalizing the loss of citizenship, and the authorities empowered to decide on it.”

    The regime allows people to hand in their passport, but the renunciation has to go through an approval process that has taken up to 12 or (rumored) 15 years. The implicit sanction is that the person con not enter Cuba as he / she has no Cuban passport and his other nationality still isn’t recognized.
    In fact: many Cubans hold dual nationality an,d only use their Cuban passport to go to Cuba. The Cuban regime also does not enforce the loss of citizenship as it prefers to force Cubans to remain Cuban so it has more control. If the foreign nationality would be accepted the ex-Cuban would have the protection of his new nationality.

    That is the complete story.

  • Read the Castro 1976 constitution that is NOT applied today because the regime does not want to lose control.

    “ARTICLE 32. Cubans may not be deprived of their citizenship save for established legal causes. Neither may they be deprived of the right to change citizenship.
    Dual citizenship is not recognized. Therefore, when a foreign citizenship is acquired, the Cuban one will be lost.
    Formalization of the loss of citizenship and the authorities empowered to decide on this is prescribed by law.”

    Note: the guy is a part of the Castro propaganda machine.

    In fact: Cubans can demand to lose the Cuban nationality. The “approval” can take up to 12 years during which the Cuban can not travel to Cuba.

  • Dual citizenship, read Cuban constitution from 1940 derecho de todo Cubano.

  • The Cubans that left before 1970 own most of everything in Cuba, so by allowed them to travel with a foreign document automatically took away any chance for them to reclaim any of their possessions in Cuba; The rest was never able to claim ownership of anything they never owned any. Only the state that appropriated and confiscated all properties from those that abandoned their country forced or voluntarily if that ever was the case when they no longer could own anything after being dispossessed of all their properties, those are the only ones now allowed to enter with their foreign document as a precautionary measure. Very different on those that exited after 1970; a total set of rules were created to dealt with their displeasure or intolerance on the governing political system, so the imposing draconian passports fees were created by the governing class as way of absurd punishment in the case any of them ever wanted to return to their country so now you have the reason of why some can travel holding foreign passports and some are forced to use only Cuban.
    Amazing all the wealth that entered into Vegas as Havana perished for over half of a century!

  • “State capitalist” is far from a derogatory term.
    A statement of fact that correctly describes the economic reality.
    It is associated with Stalinism more than with “Marxist-Leninism” as such. That term is broader.
    It correctly describes the fact that it is the state that controls all “capital” in the economy. It owns the means of production and the raw materials. The workers are obliged to contribute their labor at derisory remuneration.
    In the Stalinist state capitalist system is it the central planning agency that theoretically estimates demand and plans the supply for that demand. in reality it fails both in its predictions of real demand (real needs even) and in the supply of the goods needed. By its nature it is oblivious to a changing reality (weather, sudden spikes in certain needs, …) for a start. See the losses in Cuba agriculture due to lack of transport and packaging at the time the harvest is ready. Any failing in the system ripples through as there is no responsiveness in the system (see the factory of Lada story that “met its plan” but had lots of cars on the lot that were inoperable as they missed crucial parts).
    Some people try to call it “state socialism”, indeed. That is a contradiction in terms. In a socialist system the workers should own and control the means of production. The clearly don’t in a state capitalist system as in Cuba.

    State capitalism as practiced in the so-called “socialist” countries always has a dictatorial system with a ruling elite that exploits the workers for its own benefit and survival.
    There is no “transition” from state socialism to state capitalism in Cuba. The current elite is just adjusting its system of economic control by bringing in foreign partners as it has finally realized that it itself is utterly incapable to adequately run the economy. The transition is from state capitalism to “mixed capitalism” only as indeed the elite will try – at nearly all cost – to retain control over the most important parts of the economy. Small capitalist entities are allowed – under strict control – to operate menial and marginal part of the economy (farming may be the odd one out but even there strict controls remain). Larger and more lucrative parts of the economy remain in the hands of the state capitalist elite’s control via “mixed companies”. That control over foreign partners is often ludicrous (a hotel manager of the Melia chain once told us he had to get state approval for any investment of over 100 dollars when explaining why there were no seats on the toilets in the lobby).
    Cuba has very few wholly owned foreign economic entities. Less than 10 if I recall correctly.
    The current dilemma of the Castro elite is how to get a profitable economy going without sacrificing any control. As such Cuba will remain largely state capitalist for a long time.
    Transition to free market capitalism with a social correction – as in Europe – is what Cuba needs to improve the lives of its people. That is also the thing that the regime fears most though lots of members do fancy themselves as the future oligarchs of the new economic system. There is clearly some jockeying going on within the system where all await the death of Fidel at which point the divisions will become more clear. The “total control” system of Raul through the military is how he thinks he can control the elite.

  • Back to the passport. A Cuban gets a passport valid for six years. Still, the passport has to have a ‘porrogacion’ every two years. To do so in Britain costs seventy-five pounds, about one hundred and twenty US dollars. Consular transactions on behalf of another person cost an extra nineteen pounds. No comment. If capitalism is the accumulation of capital, then clearly Cuba’s system is state capitalist. No market element required.

  • “State capitalist” is a derogatory term applied by critics of the Marxist-Leninist system. They call it capitalist because they want to distance the Soviet model from their own version of socialism.

    However, Capitalism is an economic system based on market forces of supply & demand which employs the accumulation of capital for investment for the realization of profits. The Soviet system did not have any of those elements: no market forces, no investment for profits. The “capital” used by the State was not hard currency, it’s value was arbitrarily set by the state and therefore not real capital.

    The Soviet system did have features of socialism: workers soviets, basic rations, public education, public healthcare and public pensions. These are all classic elements of a socialist system.

    Therefore, the most accurate description of the Marxist-Leninist system as developed in the USSR, and also in Castro’s Cuba, is a State Socialist system. That is, a version of socialism run by the State, through the monopoly of political power held by the Party.

    John G objects to the use of that label containing the world “socialist” because he holds to the anarchist-socialist position. Obviously, there are great differences between Soviet style State Socialism and the anarchist-socialist system, especially in regards to how political power is held and exercised. John errs when he declares therefore that the USSR and Cuba were never any kind of socialism, just because it was not his favoured kind of socialism. The fact is there are several different forms of socialism with their attendant differences in ideology.

    There can be Marxist-Leninist Socialism, Maoist Socialism, Scandinavian-style Social Democracy, Cuban Socialism, and yes, John, even Anarchist-Socialism. They are all different and they all get to use the word “socialism”. It’s ironic that anarchists get so darned authoritarian in their insistence they hold the monopoly on the use of the word “socialism”.

    A State Capitalist system would be one where the market forces exist in the economy and the State involves itself in capital accumulation and investment for profit, often in partnership with State-sanctioned corporate monopolies. Examples of countries with State Capitalist systems would be Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Peron’s Argentina and more recently, modern China. None of these countries were/are democracies.

    It is my belief, and the available evidence suggests it is happening already, that Raul Castro intends to transition Cuba from the State Socialist model established by the Revolution in the 1960’s to a system based on the Chinese model. The Party will maintain it’s monopoly on political power, while State-owned corporate monopolies, in partnerships with foreign capitalists, invest capital for profits & economic development.

    Meanwhile, the socialist elements that characterized the Revolution are being systematically reduced and pruned back. The number of products in the rations are being cut. The public education & healthcare systems are starved for funding & staffing, while medical staff is rented out overseas for profits. State pensions are minuscule. Socialism in Cuba is withering.

    In time, Cuba will transition from the State Socialist system to a State Capitalist system. It’s about half way there already. Sadly, democracy of any sort, is not on the agenda for the Cuban people.

  • My wife legally left Cuba in 1964. She is now a US citizen. Can she travel to Cuba on her USA passport. According to this article she can. We have been waiting for months for her Cuban passport to come in so we can go to Cuba and visit her family. Can some please advise me if she can travel to Cuba on her USA passport?

  • All countries commonly referred to as “socialist” as in “the socialist block” are / were in fact Stalinist state capitalist systems. The Castro regime itself uses the term “socialist” to describe itself.
    Purists can argue over the exact meaning of “socialist” versus” communist”, …… but bottom line is that the only countries that have a social element and are democracies have a mixed capitalist system.
    Cuba is indeed a totalitarian dictatorship along the lines of pure Stalinism (both political as socioeconomic). It is far from the idealistic (never realized) socialism it claims to be.
    Note though that many that call themselves “socialists” support the Castro dictatorship. As such the term is utterly discredited.

  • Cuba is not a socialist country.
    It has a state capitalist economy and a de facto totalitarian government both of which are top-down forms that exclude the possibility of socialism being the reality in Cuba .
    What you or she probably meant to say is that Cuba is a TOTALITARIAN country and Cubans must follow the rules, like it or not.

  • Make the system easier and less expensive for Cuban citizens. After all it is their country.

  • The Cuban constitution (2002) on nationality:
    “ARTICLE 32
    Cubans may not be deprived of their citizenship except for legally established causes. Nor may they be deprived of the right to change it.
    Dual citizenship shall not be allowed. Consequently , when a foreign citizenship is acquired, the Cuban citizenship shall be lost.
    The law establishes the procedure to be followed for formalizing the loss of citizenship, and the authorities empowered to decide on it.”

    This would mean that all those that get another citizenship – as most exiles have – have theoretically automatically lost their Cuban citizenship and their need / ability to use a Cuban passport.

    Here comes the rest of the story. The “authorities empowered to decide on the loss of citizenship” is the Castro regime. That has created a procedure by which people have to ask themselves for the revocation of their citizenship. If and when they do their Cuban passports are cancelled, but pending formal approval of the request to lose the Cuban nationality the person can not travel to Cuba on his foreign passport – not “recognized yet – and he also has no Cuban passport to enter Cuba with. From friends I have learned of cases where this “authorization” took more than twelve years. Some cases are reported even longer. The “punishment” is that the person isn’t allowed in to Cuba for years and is isolated from his / her family.
    The bottom line is that the Castro regime prefers those with dual nationality to remain “Cubans” so it can maintain control over them. It then also can reject any demands or requests of any country of which the person has acquired the nationality stating that as long as the Cuban passport exists.

    As all things in Cuba nationality is part of the “total control” system of the regime. The constitution is clearly just a piece of paper that the regime can ignore at will.

  • This is just another money grab for the government of the country . I spoke with a Cuban women while waiting to get through security at a Cuban airport in Jan 2015 and she said that Cubans travelling home must pay extra fees coming into the country as well as leaving even though they are citizens of another country and if they don’t pay they are detained. This is a Socialist Country and Cubans must follow the rules like it or not.

  • At the moment it serves a useful purpose for the Cuba government. What Cuba really wants is access to financial markets blocked by embargo. The archaic pass port rules create fuel for argument to bring down the curtain on embargo. Once banking is normalized, easier travel to Cuba to collect tourism dollars will propel change.

  • Asking to the cuban government what is the logic on any desicion is almost a surreal experience. I remember when in Cuba men couldn’t wear shorts in públic,in a tropical county. Logic?

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