Cuba could soon allow its citizens freedom of travel

Communist Cuba might soon give its citizens the freedom to travel outside the island, without seeking the government’s permission, the AP reports.

The agency said that the President of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón, talked about migration reforms on Tuesday and said that “radical and profound” changes could come in a few weeks.
Dagoberto Rodriguez, Cuba’s vice minister for foreign affairs, also hinted at the relaxation of travel restrictions last Saturday, in a video conference held with Cuban exiles at the Swiss embassy in Washington.

“We know that many of you are eagerly awaiting this announcement,” Rodriguez said. “But we must all understand that these are complex issues that would require multiple legal changes.”

Currently, Cubans have to apply for costly exit visas if they wish to travel outside the island. The permits cost $150, while the average salary on the island is $20 a month.

Travel permits only last a certain amount of time, usually 30 days, and more money must be paid to Cuban embassies overseas, if the person traveling abroad wishes to extend her trip.

Opponents of the regime have accused the Cuban government of using these travel permits as an instrument of political control, as they are usually not granted to dissidents.

The prominent blogger and democracy activist Yoani Sanchez, for instance, has been denied permission to leave the country 20 times over the past four years.

It was not clear from the government’s statements if dissidents would also be able to travel freely outside Cuba´s borders or if special provisions would be put in place to limit their mobility.

But if Cuba does end up lifting travel restrictions, even if just for some of its citizens, the move would complement a series of modest reforms undertaken by the Raúl Castro government.

Since he succeeded his brother Fidel, in 2008, Castro has allowed real estate and private car sales to take place on the communist island.  His cash strapped government has been forced to fire hundreds of thousands of public employees, and in return, Castro has granted Cubans greater freedoms to open their own businesses in some sectors of the economy, most notably in catering (restaurants) and agriculture.

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