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

  • February 20, 2015 at 10:27 am

    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?

  • February 20, 2015 at 3:27 am

    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.

  • February 19, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    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.

  • February 19, 2015 at 1:35 pm

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

  • February 19, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    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.

  • February 19, 2015 at 9:32 am

    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.

  • February 18, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    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.

  • February 18, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    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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