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Cuba Implements Long-Awaited Migration Reform

On January 14, 2013 Cuba's historic migration reform went into effect, which should make it much easier to leave and enter the country.

According to the Havana Times, Cuban citizens can now apply for passports to travel out of the country for up to 24 months, without seeking special permission from the government. The new regulations eliminate the previously required “exit permit” and “letter of invitation” and relaxes rules for health care and sports professionals and those who migrated illegally. In addition, the grounds for repatriation have been expanded.

For years, leaving the country, whether temporarily or permanently, has been the subject of dozens of posts in the Cuban blogosphere. The implementation of the long-awaited migration reform could put an end to the emotionally tormenting decision to stay or to leave Cuba.

In August 2012, the author of “Los otros ojos de Eva” [Eva's other eyes] made reference [es] to the “internationalist missions,” government projects to provide aid to other countries, primarily in sectors such as education and health which also represent an economic relief for Cuban professionals. However, Melisa Cordero also reminds us of the enormous human cost of years of separation for families:

La niña apenas tiene cinco años y tú te asomas en la cuna a las tres de la madrugada e intentas grabarte sus detalles. El viaje será pronto. Cruzarás en Atlántico y la extrañarás de inmediato, a cada segundo y hasta en los sueños, y te parecerá verla cada vez que un niño africano, negrito y sucio, se te acerque en una consulta. (…) Las dudas te corren el cuerpo, estás indecisa y tu familia: sí muchacha, vete, nosotros te la cuidamos, y tu marido con el rostro compungido y sin decir palabra y el refrigerador medio vacío y las necesidades golpeándote la conciencia. El viaje será pronto. La comisión médica es sabia, pero tú no sabes si, cuando la niña crezca, te agradecerá los juguetes y el televisor de plasma y el microwave y la ropa que tiene de más, o te reprochará todas las horas de ausencias.

The little girl is barely five years old and you approach her cradle at three o'clock in the morning and try to record her features in your memory. The journey will be soon. You will cross the Atlantic and you will miss her immediately, throughout every second and even in your dreams, and you'll think you see her every time an African child, black-skinned and dirty, approaches you during a consultation. (…) Doubt will rush through your body, you are hesitant and your family: yes girl, go on, we'll look after her, and your husband with his sad face and without a word and with the fridge half empty and their needs beating your conscience. The journey will be soon. The medical committee is wise, but you don't know whether, when the little girl grows up, she will thank you for the toys and the plasma TV and the microwave and the clothes she's got too many of, or whether she will reproach you for all the hours of absence.

In another article (which is fiction), the author narrates [es] a father's departure from the port of Mariel:

Mi padre se fue en una balsa, una balsa construida con poliespuma y corcho, con lágrimas de noche, después de la comida, cuando era difícil conciliar el sueño con unos pocos granos de arroz en el estómago. Mi padre se fue por el Mariel, arrastró el bote por la acera y después por la calle de la escuela y pasó enfrente de la carnicería que estaba en huelga. Mi padre se tiró al mar, se empujó él mismo sobre las olas y se perdió en el horizonte dejándonos un puesto vacío en la mesa y las esperanzas de volver a llenar, muy pronto, las cazuelas. Mi padre se fue una tarde, hace algún tiempo, quizá un poco más y aún no hemos descubierto, exactamente, en qué lugar del Caribe lanzarle las flores.

My father left on a raft, a raft made from Styrofoam and cork, with tears at night, after the meal, when it was difficult to fall asleep with just a few grains of rice in your stomach. My father departed from Mariel, he dragged the boat along the pavement and then along the street by the school and in front of the butchers which was on strike. My father threw himself into the sea, he pushed himself over the waves and was lost on the horizon, leaving us with an empty place at the table and the hope that the saucepans would, very soon, be full once again. My father left one afternoon, some time ago, maybe a little longer and we still haven't found out, exactly, in which part of the Caribbean to lay flowers.

Since January 14 2013, Cuban citizens will be able to apply for passports at the offices of the Identity Card and Population Registry as well as at Immigration and Naturalisation to travel out of the country without being required to seek permission from the government.

Offices of Immigration and Naturalisation during the first day of the migration reform. Photo: courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños

Offices of Immigration and Naturalisation during the first day of the migration reform. Photo: courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños

According to a report from the Havana Times [es], which quotes the Office of Immigration and Naturalisation, a total of 195 sites have been set up for this purpose.

According to this digital magazine [sp], “it is estimated that the historical reform will benefit a large number of Cubans who, as long as they can finance their journey and obtain a visa for the destination country, will be able to travel abroad with far greater ease.” However, “this will not imply a massive exodus from the island. The vast majority of countries require an entry visa for citizens of the largest of the Antilles.”

With regard to journeys towards the United States, an article published by the digital site Café Fuerte [Strong Coffee] points out [es]:

Cuba permitirá que sus ciudadanos puedan viajar como emigrados y acogerse incluso a la Ley de Ajuste Cubano (CAA) en Estados Unidos sin perder sus derechos como residentes de la isla en un plazo de dos años, anunció un alto funcionario gubernamental.

Cuba will allow its citizens to travel as emigrants and even to make use of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) in the United States without losing their rights as residents of the island for a period of two years, a high-level government official announced.

But some citizens, amongst them elite athletes [es], will still have to seek permission to leave the country.

Moreover, the law includes a subsection which has been questioned by several bloggers. Fernando Ravsberg, author of Cartas desde Cuba [Letters from Cuba], points out [es]:

El inciso “H” sin embargo, informa que tampoco podrán viajar “cuando por otras razones de interés público, lo determinen las autoridades facultadas”. Una curiosidad legal que no establece claramente cuáles pueden ser las “razones” ni cuáles son las “autoridades” (…) Semejante vaguedad da un poder absoluto a los funcionarios sobre el ciudadano. La escasez de maestros podría ser considerada una razón de interés público y el Ministerio del ramo puede sentirse la autoridad facultada para impedir el viaje de un educador.

Subsection “H”, however, states that they will also not be able to travel “when for other reasons of public interest, the relevant authorities say so.” A legal curiosity which does not clearly establish what these “reasons” or “authorities” may be (…) Such an ambiguity gives absolute power to civil servants over the citizenry. The lack of teachers could be considered to be a reason of public interest and the Ministry in question may consider itself to be the relevant body to prevent a teacher from travelling.

However, the AP agency has published a report in which it reveals that “according to an anonymous informant, various hospital directors held a meeting on Saturday with the Ministry of Health, and were informed of a resolution which will allow the standardisation of travel for all sector personnel.”

In turn, Manuel Henrique Lagarde commented [es] on the situation of Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez:

A la salida de las Oficinas de Departamento de Inmigración y Extranjería del municipio Plaza de la Revolución en 17 y K en el Vedado, la bloguera, en declaraciones a la prensa extranjera, afirmó que había solicitado la confección de un pasaporte nuevo y que se le había informado que luego de 15 días laborables, el tiempo que demoraba la confección del documento, podría salir del país.

At the exit of the offices of the Department of Immigration and Naturalisation in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución in 17 and K in El Vedado, the blogger, in declarations made to the foreign press, confirmed that she had requested a new passport and that she had been informed that after 15 working days, the time it would take to produce the document, she could leave the country.

Hundreds of foreign media have reported the news and some users from other nations have celebrated the Cuban migration reform, although they point out [es]:

La tan esperada eliminación de las trabas impuestas durante décadas a los cubanos para salir de su país entró hoy en vigor, pero con un alto precio, cien dólares por pasaporte, el más caro de la región después de Chile.

The long-awaited removal of the obstacles imposed for decades on Cubans trying to leave their country came into force today, but with a high price, 100 dollars per passport, the most expensive in the region after Chile.

Cuban state television broadcast a programme with more details about the migration reform (in Spanish).

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