As of January 14th, just about anyone in Cuba who wants to travel off the island will be allowed to go.
For decades, Cuban authorities have severely restricted who can leave.
The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Havana says some restrictions will continue on the best-educated, to avoid a brain drain.
But she says overall the move is hugely popular in Havana.
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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman and this is The World. It’s hard to imagine this happening but it is official. As of January 14, just about anyone in Cuba who wants to travel off the island will be allowed to go. For decades, Cuban authorities have severely restricted who can leave. The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford is in Havana. This reform was expected, Sarah, but how big a deal is it actually?
Sarah Rainsford: Well, I think psychologically it’s a huge deal for people. Speaking to Cubans here in Havana, they’re saying, “At last” you know, finally this has happened. It’s something that’s been extremely unpopular here – the system of having to get government permission to leave the island. Very unpopular for a very long time. It was more than a year ago that the President Raul Castro said that the system would change and the Cubans have been waiting impatiently ever since. So, it is a big deal. It does mean a little bit more freedom for people here on the island who want to travel. It essentially means that they won’t face a bill of $350 all told for all the paperwork involved which, for a country where the average salary…average monthly salary is $20 is obviously very significant. So, a bit more freedom and a bit cheaper for anyone who wants to travel.
Werman: Right. And as I said earlier, just about anyone would be able to travel but, who will be able to leave and who can’t?
Ransford: Well, yes, there are still restrictions. In fact, when you look in the small print of what’s changed, it talks about two things. It talks about what Cuba calls its human capital. Now, essentially what that means is the people that the system here has spent a lot of money educating to become highly valued professionals and, particularly, that means doctors and scientists. Now, they will still face restrictions. And also, instead of the exit permit, what people now have to do is to update their passport, to, I think, get a stamp in it. That process does also retain restrictions. There’s a whole list of reasons why your passport can’t be updated and at the very bottom it says, “…for any other reasons of public interest that are defined by the authorities.” So I think, potentially, government critics, decedents here may still have trouble when they want to travel.
Werman: All right. So, why is this happening? What does the government of Raul Castro hope will come of this new freedom?
Rainsford: Well, I think it’s partly about being seen to give citizens here more freedom. The headline in the communist party newspaper talked about this being a response to the will of the people. So that’s how they are presenting it, but it’s also about economics. It’s about creating a system where people, like in any other country, can travel off the island and can come back and bring their money…bring the money that they make abroad and bring their new knowledge back to the island to help with the economy here which really hugely needs that investment, if you like.
Werman: Do you get any sense that the Cuban authorities are a little worried about what might happen, perhaps a massive exodus, you know, like the one that preceded the collapse of East Germany at the end of the cold war?
Rainsford: Well, I think that’s certainly been something that people have seen as a possibility, but you have to bear in mind that even though Cubans are now, or at least from January, will be free to leave the island without government permission, they will still have to get visas for the countries they want to enter.
Werman: The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Havana. Thank you very much Sarah.
Rainsford: Thank you.
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