On October 16, Cuba’s official newspaper announced that the requirement of an exit visa to depart the island will be lifted on January 14.
A future Cuban traveler will have to present only a renewed passport and a visa from his destination country in order to depart Cuba. Permissible periods of time abroad without loss of citizen benefits will also be extended to two years or more.
The Cuban government still has the authority to renew or issue passports as it sees fit. It also states that it will protect “human capital” and that travel can be denied for “national security reasons.”
There is a high probability, worries Generation Y blogger Yoani Sánchez, that come next January, her unfulfilled quest for foreign travel—for which she has repeatedly applied—will again be dashed because of some secretive “blacklist.”
Don’t expect a Cuban tourist boom. In a country where the average monthly wage is $20, access to foreign currency is strictly rationed, and there is no genuine productive private sector, it is difficult to identify those able to benefit from the change.
A Cuban passport alone will cost the average Cuban five months’ salary. Cubans wishing to come to the U.S. will meet the customary tests regarding overcoming the presumption of being an intending immigrant. The State Department issued an average of between 15,000 and 20,000 non-immigrant visas to Cubans in the last three years.
What is General Raul Castro’s game plan? Real liberalization? Most doubtful. Some see a potential legal Mariel, referring to the mass exodus of Cubans in 1980. “Let those go who wish to,” they’ll say, “but the selfish neighbors to the north will deny them entry.”
Raul, the economic czar, will be happy to cut his human capital loses and responsibilities by shedding unwanted workers and retirees, exporting future welfare costs to relatives abroad and to Florida and other states. A few can use the change to hop back and forth, helping keep the foundering communist regime afloat.
Finally, a change in visa policy will not end repression. The Castro regime remains grounded upon a selective system of political repression and denial of basic rights extending from censorship and the information monopoly to the frequent use of snitches, police thugs, and state security to intimidate, harass, detain, and incarcerate dissidents.
Yet one cannot help but hope against realistic expectations that next January, Yoani Sánchez will be allowed to travel, meet freely with friends of Cuban democracy, and return unmolested to her home.