Tag Archives: Malecon

First test of Cuban travel reform: Success

16 Jan
A fisherman on Havana's seawalk, the Malecon

Cubans no longer need to set out on dangerous sea journey in search of better life

Long cues formed in front of travel agencies and offices issuing passports from the early hours of 14 January, the day when a reform allowing Cubans to travel without official permission took effect.

The first in one of the cues was opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez. Her husband, an independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, had secured the position by waiting there since the previous day. (Oh, how this brings back to my mind memories of overnight cueing for English classes after communism ended in Czechoslovakia)

Ever since the government of Raul Castro announced last October that travel permits would no longer be needed, there have been doubts about the sincerity of the reform.

Will the authorities use passports as a tool to control who can and who cannot travel?

A new passport is now the only document the government requires from most Cubans to let them go abroad (highly qualified professionals still need a permit to travel).

However, the new Migration Law stipulates that citizens can be denied a passport for “defence and security reasons”, or for “reasons of public interest”.

Yoani, whose blog about the life in Cuba is well-known around the world, has been prevented from travelling on twenty occasions.

At 8:39 Cuban time, she tweeted that the application process went smoothly.

“They have already told me I would be able to travel,” she wrote.

Both, Yoani and her husband, expect to have new passports within two weeks. “Fingers crossed. I’ll believe it only when I am on a plane,” she tweeted.

“There are hopes and doubts”, Yoani had commented while still waiting in front of an immigration office.

Optimists see the travel reform as a good sign.

“The new Migration Law is the explicit recognition by the country’s current political leadership of past mistakes and therefore it expresses a desire for change,” an independent journalist Mario Hechevarria Driggs wrote. “It seems that we are moving to another variant of socialism,” he added.

But for many, it is just too difficult to believe that the 54-year-old oppressive regime is changing.

Yoani Sanchez wondered whether other Cuban opposition figures would also be that lucky to get passports.

Reinaldo Escobar’s scepticism went further, when he questioned whether the possession of a passport would really guarantee them freedom to travel to and from the country.

“Just let’s wait to see what will happen at the immigration officer desk at the airport when the famous blogger tries to walk through that door, which is officially called ‘the border’, he wrote in his blog.

Opposition activists also worry that even if they are allowed to leave Cuba, they won’t be let back in.

The next few weeks will show whether Yoani Sanchez gets the passport she has been promised. Whether immigration officials will allow her to take a plane and whether they will let her back in the country after her first trip abroad.

If the new migration policy passes all of these tests there will be a real reason to believe that a change in the Caribbean island is finally in the wind.