Written by Matthew Harper.
On the 16th of October, Cuba announced that it will be dropping its requirement for “exit permits,” meaning that, for the first time in more than 50 years, Cubans will be allowed to travel abroad with ease. The exit permits were extremely restrictive, and many compared them to the Berlin Wall in that they were holding their own citizens back. The system was unfair and many Cubans are excited to see it go.
The new travel policies will go into effect in January. Under the old system, anyone who wished to leave Cuba had to apply for and be granted exit permits. With this restriction lifted, Cubans will be able to leave their small nation far more freely, and this is undoubtedly good news. However, many people with knowledge of the new policies have been quick to point out that, although the system is changing, not all of the change is good. In fact, for some, the system isn’t really going to change at all.
There are exceptions to the new policy of not needing exit visas, and those exceptions include certain people still not being allowed to leave Cuba without these permits for fear of a possible “theft of their talents,” as The Los Angeles Times puts it. The “talented” people included in that exception range from doctors and scientists to athletes and other professionals that Cuba deems important. This, in essence, means that the people who probably have the most ability to leave, those with positions of relative power, might also have the hardest time trying to leave, as they’ll still be restricted.
It’s also important to note that, while the new system is an improvement, the degree to which it improves upon the exit visa model isn’t clear as of yet. Cubans wishing to leave will still have to obtain their Cuban passports and visas from the country they are wishing to travel to. The change would also allow Cubans to stay abroad longer. The problem, though, is that all Cubans, whether they have recent passports or not, will have to get their passports renewed, and it is feared that they may not be allowed to do so. Cuba retains the right to refuse passports to people for a variety of reasons, including one worrisome note about refusing passports for “national security” reasons. Most believe that this means Cuba will continue to prevent dissidents, that is, people who are outspoken about the oppressive government, from being able to leave at all (The New York Times).
So, the Cuban exit permit policy is going out the door, but don’t expect it to result in huge changes. Cubans are allowed to leave more freely and for longer times, but no one is exactly sure which Cubans will be allowed to leave. It’s frustrating that, in the 21st Century, these kinds of problems still have to be discussed, but, after all this time, not much else could be expected when talking about the infamously strict and harsh Cuban government.