Saturday, April 19, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Praise, skepticism as Cuba eases travel rules

APTOPIX Cuba Exit Visa

A woman shows her passport and that of her son to reporters as she leaves an immigration office in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012. The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it will no longer require islanders to apply for an exit visa, eliminating a much-loathed bureaucratic procedure that has been a major impediment for many seeking to travel overseas for more than a half-century. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA — For the first time since the height of the Cold War more than half a century ago, Cuba is giving its people the freedom to leave the country without government permission, scrapping the detested exit visa that kept many from traveling outside the communist nation for even a few days.

The announcement Tuesday came as blockbuster news on the island, where citizens were ecstatic at the prospect of being able to leave for a vacation – or even forever – with only a passport and a visa from the country of their destination.

“Wow, how great!” said Mercedes Delgado, a 73-year-old retiree. “Citizens’ rights are being restored. … Let’s hope this is a breakthrough to keep returning the rights that they have taken away from us.”

The decree still allows Cuban authorities the ability to deny travel by many Cubans for reasons of defense and “national security,” suggesting that dissidents may continue to face restrictions. So will doctors, scientists, athletes, members of the military and others considered key contributors, as well as those who face criminal charges.

An end to the hated exit visa had been promised since last year by President Raul Castro as part of his five-year reform plan. Analysts called it the latest and biggest step in a gradual relaxation of restrictions on things like opening private small businesses, owning cell phones, staying in tourist hotels and buying and selling homes and cars.

“It’s an important step forward in human rights, the ability to travel outside of your country without the government’s permission,” said Philip Peters, a longtime Cuba analyst at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute think tank.

“It eliminates a horrendous and offensive bureaucratic obstacle to travel.”

Starting Jan. 14, Cubans will no longer have to apply for the costly “tarjeta blanca,” or “white card,” ending a restriction in place since 1961, the height of the Cold War.

The measure also extends to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can remain abroad, and they can request an extension when that runs out. Currently, Cubans lose residency and their rights to property, social security, free health care and free education after 11 months overseas.

Announced in the wee hours in the Communist newspaper Granma and published into law in the official Gazette, word of the change spread like wildfire Tuesday and was the talk of the streets and office buildings. Islanders greeted the news with a mixture of delight and astonishment.

“This is huge news. Everybody has been waiting for it for a long time,” said Bertina Rodriguez, a 47-year-old office worker. “Because it’s a kind of opening, even if I think they’re doing it so that people can’t say this is a place where they keep people locked up.”

“I heard from my cousin who phoned from the United States,” said Beatriz Suarez, a 35-year-old Havana resident. “She’s all worked up about this.”

Besides the exit visa, the new policy also eliminates the need for a letter of invitation from an institution or person in the destination country.

“These measures are truly substantial and profound,” deputy immigration chief Col. Lamberto Fraga told a morning news conference. “What we are doing is not just cosmetic.”

Still, Fraga said some people remain restricted to combat the brain drain that has already led many of the island’s young and talented to leave for economic reasons.

“These professionals are going to require authorization to leave,” Fraga said.

Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez expressed concern that officials might now control travel merely by denying passports.

“I have the suitcase ready to travel. … Let’s see if I get a flight for Jan. 14, 2013, to try out the new law,” tweeted Sanchez, who said she has been denied an exit visa 20 times over the last five years.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“The Cuban government has kept for itself a couple of other checks on the ability of people to leave freely, including this issue of revalidating passports and this issue of claiming that they can preserve the human capital of the revolution in the country,” Nuland said. “So we just need to see how this is implemented.”

Migration is a highly politicized issue in Cuba and beyond its borders.

Under the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, the United States allows nearly all Cubans who reach its territory to remain, while those caught at sea are sent home and not penalized. Just last week, three members of the Cuban national soccer team defected ahead of a match in Canada and sought refuge in the U.S.

More than 1 million people of Cuban origin live in the United States, and many thousands more are in Europe and Latin America.

Granma published an accompanying editorial blaming the decades-old travel restrictions on U.S. attempts to topple the island’s government, plant spies and recruit its best-educated citizens.

“The update to the migratory policy takes into account the right of the revolutionary state to defend itself from the interventionist and subversive plans of the U.S. government and its allies,” Granma said. “Therefore, measures will remain to preserve the human capital created by the revolution in the face of the theft of talent applied by the powerful.”

While the measure greatly streamlines the travel process, analysts said it was unlikely to provoke a mass exodus.

Cubans still need to acquire entry visas for most countries, including the United States, which closely screens applicants and rejects potential overstayers. According to U.S. government statistics, about 43,000 visas were issued to Cubans in the most recent fiscal year, including both tourist and immigrant visas, and a huge backlog means the wait for a new visa application can be lengthy.

Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said U.S. visa requirements remain unchanged.

“We obviously welcome any reforms that will allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely,” she said. “We remain committed to the migration accords under which our two countries support and promote safe, legal and orderly migration.”

Under those 1994 accords, Washington has encouraged Havana to take steps to prevent any future mass exodus.

However, the end of the exit visa could lead to an increase in Cubans traveling to third countries and either staying there or making their way to the U.S. Islanders already fly frequently to Ecuador, which does not require an entry visa.

Kathleen Campbell Walker, an immigration lawyer in El Paso, Texas, said Homeland Security officials review passenger lists for U.S.-bound flights and are likely to order an airline to deny boarding to anyone who doesn’t have a visa.

At the Versailles restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana, a well-known gathering spot for Cuban-Americans, Eddie Balzola applauded the announcement.

“Anything that is more freedom for humanity is always a good thing,” Balzola said. “People should have the freedom to travel and go and come as they please in every country.”

But the measure was also dismissed by some exiles, including Havana-born U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who called it part of “so-called reforms” that are “nothing more than Raul Castro’s desperate attempts to fool the world into thinking that Cuba is changing.”

Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Washington-based Cuba Study Group, said he was cautiously optimistic the move will reduce the isolation of the Cuban people and increase interaction between the U.S. and Cuban civil society.

“The important story is the Cuban government has taken a step that has long been demanded by the Cuban people,” Bilbao said.

Peters said it’s unlikely the change will inspire Washington to make an overture to Havana in the middle of a presidential election year, but this and other changes in Cuba offer opportunities for engagement with whoever takes the oath of office in January.

“The one thing that stands out now is that the travel restrictions are all on the side of the United States,” Peters added, referring to the longtime ban on American tourism to the island as part of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. “That’s kind of ironic.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Solano unemployment inches downward

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Transplant recipients talk about their best gifts

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Police release name of woman found dead in Fairfield canal

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Spering, Bertani spar over fighting crime

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 15 Comments | Gallery

 
Fairfield council candidates weigh in on crime

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Five homes featured on Symphony Home Tour

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Congregation invites public to Easter music, message

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
 
Local woman helps spread Easter joy

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B12 | Gallery

Weather for April 19, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B13

 
.

US / World

California farmers to get more water

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Teen sentenced in Oakland toddler’s killing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

More Latino than white students admitted to UC

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
PG&E to be arraigned in fatal pipeline blast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Mom and son who died in San Francisco fire ID’d

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
3 alleged gang members convicted of murder

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
From Clinton to Obama, many parallels

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Easter on 4/20, pot holy day; pastors reach out

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

 
NASA’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down as planned

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Atheist national conference aims at Mormon church

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
White House updating online privacy policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

SpaceX making Easter delivery of station supplies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Sudden movement raises alarm in Wyoming slide area

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

 
Man who avoided prison is overwhelmed by support

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Teen suspended for asking Miss America to prom

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

 
In Egypt, a corruption watchdog hit by backlash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Military scales down, modifies Guam buildup plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Captain of sunken SKorean ferry arrested

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Avalanche sweeps down Everest, killing at least 12

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
57-nation OSCE plays key Ukraine monitoring role

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Ukraine crisis: The turning points

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
.

Opinion

Cheers, jeers for the week of April 13-19, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A11

 
Editorial Cartoons for April 19, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
Here we go again in Sacramento

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 7 Comments

 
.

Living

Today in History for April 19, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Seniors, it’s never too late to do something about your health

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

 
Horoscopes for April 19, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B10

 
Prince reaches agreement with music label

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

‘The Boondocks’ back for final ‘offensive’ season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
A nutty finale for ‘Scandal,’ TV’s craziest show

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

Stratocaster still a favorite at 60

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
.

Sports

Hertl has impressive playoff debut for Sharks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Warriors and Clippers take dislike to playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Big innings lift Mustangs over Indians

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Ross, Padres beat Cain and Giants 2-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

A’s come out swinging to beat Astros 11-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Warriors to start O’Neal for Bogut vs. Clippers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Avalanche sweeps down Everest, killing at least 12

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Mets trade 1B Ike Davis to Pirates

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

TNT’s Sager to miss NBA playoffs due to leukemia

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

A’s lefty reliever Doolittle gets 5-year deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
’40-and-up club’: Ageless Hopkins after more belts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jimenez shoots 65 to lead Greater Gwinnett field

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Solano scores in ninth for 2-1 BVC baseball win over Yuba

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Choi leads rain-delayed RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
NBA’s Silver wants age limit change, no rush on others

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NBA playoffs looking more wide-open than expected

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Source: Grizzlies’ G Calathes suspended for 20 games

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

5 features an Amazon phone might offer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
Judge says American can’t end retiree benefits yet

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

Mazda recalls 109,000 older SUVs for rust problem

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
.

Obituaries

Sealwyn Shirley Brucefield Shepherd Malkiewicz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
.

Home Seller 04/19/14

Summerwood features 8 new homes in Suisun

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR2

Real estate transactions for April 19, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR3

Average US 30-year mortgage rate falls to 4.27 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR3