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The Cuban government has indeed taken a step in the right direction by announcing that it will eliminate a half-century-old restriction that requires its citizens to get an exit visa to leave the country.
Fifty years ago, the United States and Cuba were at the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. The previous year, a U.S.-sponsored invasion had failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime. The United States imposed crippling trade and travel restrictions to punish Castro’s vitriolic leadership.
Since Castro’s brother, Raul, took over the reins in Cuba at the beginning of 2008, there has been some shift in attitude. Whether it leads to the type of individual and collective freedoms sought by many of the island’s inhabitants remains to be seen, but Raul Castro is moving in the right direction with the travel decree, which takes effect Jan. 14.
Starting next year, Cubans will be able to travel abroad by showing just a passport and a visa from the country to which they are traveling. The requirement for an exit visa kept most Cubans from moving or even traveling outside their country.
The United States has had a policy known as “wet foot, dry foot,” in which any Cuban who reaches American soil gains legal status. That policy is not expected to change following the recent announcement.
Don’t expect a flood of Cubans heading to the United States. Travelers will still need a visa from the U.S. government to enter legally, and there is a lengthy wait for those visas. And the United States is not the only country to which Cubans may want to travel, even permanently. Spain and Mexico, both countries that have a number of citizens with dual nationality, may also be on the radar of Cuban citizens.
The Cuban government is not willing to allow everyone free travel rein – indicating that there will remain travel limits for many citizens, particularly scientists, doctors and others who are deemed important to the country.
Castro has made other changes that have been decades in the waiting. He has a five-year plan of reforms that includes the legalization of home and car sales and a huge increase in the number of Cubans owning private businesses.
Despite these positive moves, Cuba remains far behind most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere in according its citizens basic human rights.
The recent announcement regarding travel is, at least, a hopeful sign. Whoever is elected president of the United States next month should be prepared to encourage further easing of restrictions.