Tag Archives: dissidents

Is the world out there really so evil?

8 Feb

Consequences of Cuba’s travel reform

Cuban press

Cuban media portray the Western world as full of extreme poverty and social injustice

Much to her disbelief the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez  received a call from an immigration office on 30 Janury, informing that her passport was ready.

The well-known critic of the country’s communist government had been refused a permit to travel abroad 20 times before the migration reform came into effect in January. She said through her Twitter account on 4 February that she had her visa for Brasil and was about to apply for visa to a number of other countries.

Not all Cuban dissidents have been this lucky. Many of them have been refused passports because they have pending prison sentences of for “reasons of public interest”.

Despite its imperfections, the Cuban government seems to be serious about letting people go abroad, at least most of them and for the time being.

The percentage of Cubans taking advantage of the travel liberation will be quite small as the price of the necessary documents, flight tickets and expenses abroad will be unaffordable for the majority. In addition, foreign countries, especially the USA, are unlikely to rush into granting visas to ordinary people.

Even so, there will be more Cubans going abroad and seeing for themselves whether the life beyond the “Iron Curtain” is really like the regime of the Castro brothers has been portraying to them.

The island’s state propaganda can be pleased with the job it has done. Cubans are proud of the achievements of the revolution: “We have free education and free heath care,” they have told me triumphantly. Their jaws have dropped in disbelief when I have replied: “So do we” Although this varies from country to country, heath care and public education to at least secondary school level is free in most of Europe.

There was even more scepticism about my claim that the unemployed in Europe – yes, I admitted there are people without jobs now in a time of an economic crisis – receive financial help from state.

Even the most enlightened of the Cubans I have spoken to – I haven’t met any dissidents – believe the country’s system is the best way to go – it only needs to change its economic model. They believe the double currency is the problem.

There are two kinds of peso in Cuba – “the Peso Cubano” – which Cubans use to buy their food in subsidised shops or in the streets, pay for their bus tickets or household bills and the Peso convertible, CUC, which is used mostly by tourists.

Many Cubans believe that once the island does away with this double-currency system, its economy will revive and the Cuban one-party controlled social and political model will triumph.

I have yet to understand the logic behind this thinking.

The success of the Castrist regime in instilling the desired beliefs deep into people’s minds is hardly surprising, given the government monopoly on information.

I have neither watched the Cuban TV, nor listened to the radio. But newspapers gave me an idea. They are very thin – four sheets in average – and with very little political coverage. Most of the space is taken by sport, culture and advice for couples.

If there is some international news, then a headline usually reads something like: “The US imprisons more people than any other country in the world” – Granma 1 Feb 2013 “Child poverty has risen by 25% in the US” – Granma 25 Feb 2012 or “Misery camps are growing in the US” – Granma 24 Feb 2012

When I was in Cuba a year ago, Cubans needed permission to own a computer and to have an internet connection.

I was told that even those that had internet had their access limited to email and certain websites related to their profession – such as medical research or architecture.

I had to show my passport to prove I was a foreigner, when I wanted to connect in an internet café.

Some have been able to trick the administration and pay for internet licensed to expats living in Cuba. But even for them, the internet connection is so expensive and so slow that they hardly spend much time reading data-heavy international news websites.

However now, some Cubans will be able to travel abroad and they are likely to share their impressions with friends when they come back.

The state’s grip on information will little by little lose its strength. This can lead to only one thing – louder and louder demands for real change.

It will probably take some time and I doubt it will come while Fidel and Raul Castro are still alive (unless they cling exceptionally tightly onto life, which is also possible, given Cuba’s long life expectancy)

Cubans might keep thinking for a long time that despite everything, their island is the best. I met a lady in Santa Clara, who had spent several years in Europe, married to an Italian. She told me she could not stand it there. She missed Cuba’s warm climate and the warmth of its people.

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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.