Archive | October, 2012

Who will profit from Cuba’s travel reform?

18 Oct

Although small businesses generate more income than state jobs, travel expenses are unaffordable for majority of the Cubans

At least one Cuban is probably thinking that the government has once again ruined his plans with its announcement to remove the need for permit to travel abroad.

I met him during my visit to the island this year. For the purpose of this blog I’ll call him Reinaldo.

He studied in communist Czechoslovakia during the eighties. Smiling, he told me about the parties with pretty Slovak girls.

Then he returned to Cuba – temporally, he thought. But meanwhile, the communism in Europe collapsed and Czechoslovakia was no longer an allied country where the Cuban government sent its people to study and work.

Reinaldo has never returned to what is now Slovakia and has never met his daughter, who was born there just after he had left.

After all those years, his Slovak was impressively fluent, as he was outlining the plan he had to get back to that country.

Spanish citizenship, that he had recently been granted, allowed him to get around the government restrictions on travel abroad. He just needed to find a rich Cuban to marry and share this citizenship with. In return, she would pay for his plane ticket.

Now, when the government will ease the travel abroad, Reinaldo will no longer have anything to offer. But a plane ticket to Europe will continue to be too expensive for his wage of a state employee.

Like him, most of the 11 million Cubans will have to satisfy their desire to get know other countries through TV documentaries. With an average monthly wage of 20 pesos convertibles (approximately 12 GBP), they will hardly be able to afford even the passport fees, which have increased from 55 to 100 pesos convertibles.

Then, there are well known Cuban activists, such as Yoani Sanchez, who are likely to have their travel expenses funded from abroad. However, even under the new migration law the government will be able to control who can and who cannot leave the country.

Although full of hope, Yoani joked about the extent of the travel reform in a series of Tweets: “There is a phrase which says: You cannot do this for “h” and for “b”. You can hear in the streets today: You cannot travel for “h” and for “d”… Letters “h” and “d” of the article 23 of the Migration Law are those, which enable the Cuban government to limit the travel of dissidents.”

According to the letter “d”, the Cubans can be denied a passport “for defence and security reasons”, or “for other reasons of public interest defined by authorities”, according to the letter “h”.

There has not been a considerable increase in chances of some professionals, such as doctors, to leave for other than allied countries, such as Venezuela. The government will continue to control their travel “in order to preserve qualified work force for the economic, social and scientific development”, according to the letter “f” of the same article.

So who is going to profit from the travel liberation? Most likely obedient (at least seemingly) citizens, whose income greatly exceeds the national average, having either the permission to offer accommodation to foreign tourists or a job that allows them to take bribes or steal from state property.

Finally ceasefire in Venezuela?

16 Oct
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Photo: Venezuelan information ministry

An editorial in the Mexican daily La Jornada praised the Venezuelan elections, which it said resolved political differences in a pacific and democratic way, instead of intensifying and multiplying them like it had happened in Mexico.

So, is this the moment for the “Bravo!”?

I know my Venezuelan friends would disagree and there have been reports of opposition supporters weeping with disappointment over the election results.

But eight millions Venezuelans danced in the streets with joy that the president, who has halved poverty and has extended social and political rights to them, has been re-elected.

At the same time, the opposition has achieved strong results, which have made Hugo Chavez to soften his usually confrontational tone.

He said he had “a pleasant” phone conversation with the opposition leader Henrique Capriles. “I’m inviting to national unity, while respecting our differences.” Chavez tweeted a day after the elections.

If the election outcome reconciled the government and the opposition to the level normal in other democratic countries, the Venezuelans could hope for a brighter future.

It is this extreme animosity between the two sides that poisons the Venezuelan society. The attacks from the opposition (and opposition-run media), such as the attempted coup in 2002, push Chavez further to authoritarianism, which then prompts more attacks, sometimes amounting to conspiracy against the government.

So far, Capriles has acted exemplary in this sense. He refrained from any show of malevolence when the news of Chavez’s illness emerged last year and wished him instead to get better soon.

He promptly recognized the election results and congratulated the re-elected president without attempting to accuse him of electoral fraud.

But the US newspaper The Wasington Post warned that after previous peace offers, Chavez quickly returned to confrontation.