World News‎ > ‎

Cubans line up for passports ahead of loosening of travel restrictions

posted 11 Jan 2013, 13:25 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 11 Jan 2013, 13:31 ]

HAVANACUBA (REUTERS) -  For decades, many residents of this island nation have been effectively landlocked.

The requirements of an exit visa and an invitation from a destination country were imposed by the government of Fidel Castro in the hopes of slowing the post-revolution exodus. Cubans who travelled beyond Cuba's shores risked being blocked from re-entry, losing property and citizenship.

The new immigration law to take effect Monday (January 14) will let Cubans leave for vacation or leave for good with only a passport and a visa in hand.

It's a welcome change for thirty-six-year-old Yamila Martinez, whose son Lazaro Renewas born in Cuba but whose husband lives in Ecuador.

"The change in the law, the situation for children is the best situation possible because now I can take the child but the child doesn't have to leave for good. He will keep his Cuban citizenship. I can take him and he will continue being a Cuban citizen, whereas before if I had taken him out of the country he would have lost his rights," Martinez said.

Martinez and her son joined long lines at Havana's immigration office this week. Like many Cubans, Maritnez hopes the law will put an end to years of separation and flux.

"I have been praying for months that the law would change because one becomes tired of living like a gypsy, like a Palestinian as we say here. We can't continue to bear it. I can't continue going from here to there and there to here without having a home. I have my husband there in Ecuador and my son here, so I abandon my husband or I abandon my son. The situation is very difficult emotionally," Martinez said.

The change to the travel requirements represents the latest move by the government ofRaul Castro to respond to public demands for change.

However, not all see the new law as a benevolent gesture. Human rights activist Dr.Oscar Elias Biscet said it was an attempt to rid the island of dissenters.

"It is a decree that doesn't give the Cuban people freedom to travel but rather promotes an exodus in order to reduce the tensions that exist in the country because of the profound economic crisis," Biscet said.

Cuba's doctors, scientists, poets and other professionals have long been denied travel permits, with the government arguing the need to protect the revolution's intellectual capital.

Holistic medicine specialist Doctor Eduardo Duran welcomes the move.

"It seems to me that this is a very just measure because it makes us equal with the rest of society. In prior days when doctors were not permitted to travel we felt very marginalized. In my case in particular I didn't think it very democratic. Now we can travel and visit family members and friends in other countries, take courses and then come back to our country. This is going to be a good thing for Cuba because it takes away doctors' anxiety about emigrating to another country," Duran said.

The new law could increase traffic here at the airport in Havana by a significant margin. Traveller Maria del Pilar Rodriguez said it was a way to bring Cubans together.

"For the people's well-being, to improve the reunification of families. There has been a great deal of separation of families, something that is very tragic."

There are few nations around the world Cubans can visit without needing an entry visa.

But with an average monthly salary of $19, most Cubans will still not have the opportunity to leave their country's shores.