Monday, January 14, 2013

New travel reform takes effect

Cuba’s new travel and migration law went into effect today, the key provision of which is that Cuban citizens will be able to travel abroad just by obtaining a passport.  The long-resented requirements to obtain a travel permit (tarjeta blanca) and letter of invitation are abolished.  Passport restrictions and other details of the law are explained in my recent paper on Cuban and U.S. migration and travel policies.

An article in Granma explained today that the “updating” of Cuban migration law aims to ensure that travel and migration take place in a “legal, orderly, and secure manner.”  The new policy also aims “to strengthen [Cuba’s] relationship with its émigré community,” and was decided “by a sovereign decision” that “does not respond to the pressures or impositions of anyone.”

Cuban authorities say that 195 offices around the country are set up to handle passport applications (Prensa Latina). 

AP reports that there were long lines today at those offices and at travel agencies. 

The big question is who will and will not receive a passport.  The new law (see Article 23) lists categories of persons residing in Cuba who “may not obtain passports” for reasons that include:

·         being subject to a criminal justice proceeding or serving a sentence;
·         being subject to military service;
·         “reasons of defense and national security;”
·         “other public interest reasons;”
·         being deemed unfit for travel because of one’s work in the “economic, social, scientific, or technical development of the country, as well as for security and the protection of official information;”
·         having “obligations with the Cuban state or civil responsibility;”
·         in the case of minors, lack of full legal authorization from both parents.
Given Cuban politics and Cuba’s concern about brain drain, one suspects that dissidents and medical personnel might fit into those categories. 

But AP spoke to a Cuban doctor who said that word had come down from the health minister that doctors were to be treated “like any other citizen” when they apply to travel.   

And blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted today that she went to a passport office, was notified that she will have her passport within 15 days, and she will be able to travel.  Dissident Guillermo Farinas tweeted that he was visited by two officers (Interior ministry, presumably) who told him that “he will be able to leave the country and return.”

The real impact of the law will be known as it is implemented in the months ahead.  But these are good initial signs that it will do away with restrictions on freedom of movement for the vast majority of Cuban citizens, which makes it a substantial human rights improvement.  The Obama Administration’s reaction was right on the money: “If this is implemented in a very open way, and if it means that all Cubans can travel,” Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson told AP, “it would be a very, very positive” change.

Whether it will make a difference in U.S. policies toward Cuban migrants is another matter altogether. 

This Miami Herald article explores the ramifications of Cuba’s new law, and asks whether greater numbers of Cubans will travel to third countries then seek to enter the United States.  “In this hemisphere,” reporter Mimi Whitefield writes, “Haiti, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and a handful of small islands such as St Lucia and Grenada don’t require entry visas for Cubans. Maximum stays range from a low of 28 days in Barbados to as long as 90 days in Ecuador and Haiti.”

Cubans will be permitted to travel for stints up to two years, meaning that those who reach the United States will be able to stay under the “dry-foot” policy, wait a year, apply for legal permanent residency, and receive that status before returning to Cuba.  Café Fuerte reports that a Cuban official recently explained that possibility on a Cuban television program, noting that they could return to Cuba with a U.S. green card without losing Cuban residency.

The status quo in U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants is sustained by the Cuban Americans in Congress, who are Republicans with only two exceptions.  They cling to the old policy, it seems, because it is so central to the concept of el exilio.  But recent Cuban immigrants are anything but exiles, and they split 50-50 between Obama and Romney in last year’s election.  The status quo is costly, providing benefits intended for refugees to Cuban immigrants who are not refugees, and it encourages illegal immigration to the United States, including dangerous sea voyages.  If Congress is going to consider immigration policy this year, the policy toward Cuban migrants is ripe for re-examination.


brianmack said...

Well, If Cuba allows Ms.Sanchez and Mr. Farinas to travel freely, this truly will be an amazing change.
Sadly, the only country not allowing it's citizens to freely travel, in this case to Cuba, would be the USA.
Not a good symbol to the rest of the world and especially Latin America.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Peters,

An about face is in the works.

Ileana Rosss Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Ballart are telegraphing a change in posture.

What is in play for them are not the economic benefits that the Cuban government can get through its immigration reform nor reducing deaths and criminal activities in the high seas nor reducing the facility with which Cuban government spies enter the US but simply losing right wing control over the Cuban American community.

Nevertheless, they cannnot make a sudden change in course in order to modify this basic principle of emigre politics.

They need a little time to bring their followers around.

Apparently they want to use US migration reform to carry out the changes they want in the Cuban Adjustment Act.

What they want is transparent. They seek, at the very minimum, to impose limits on the right of newly arrived Cubans to visit their homeland and quite possibly, even to abolish teh Cuban Adjustment Act altogether but it is politically inexpedient to announce the later objective just yet.

They are sending out trial baloons and testing the waters to ask for this later.


Anonymous said...

now it is time to end the human rights restrictions against american citizens, let us travel to cuba freely. the only changes the dinosaurs in south florida will make to the CAA is if it is to their benefit, and if it punishes the cubans coming to america under the new immigration laws. cuba has shown its capacity to change, which scares the hell out of Ileana and the rest, and hopefully new dynamics in congress, and the shifting voting in florida, will finally end the ridiculous influence these people have on cuban policy. it cant happen soon enough

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ross-Lehtinen and Díaz-Balart are terrified of the consequences these changes in Cuba may have for them. It's obvious they see the writing on the wall and want to keep control of, or create, a captive voting block that is increasingly isolated, while limiting or eliminating new Cubans. They have already seen what took place in the recent election. I say, it's time for those have lived off the simple slogan of No Castro, no problem, to change their tune. Better yet, is seems they are the ones who are increasinlgy superflous. Who needs them! They contribute nothing new, they resemble the Cuban 'communists' of the 1960s and 70's, who only thought of restricting, rationing or punishing. They are becoming more and more, with every passing day, a copy of the people they oppose.