For the first time in over 50 years, Cuban citizens will be able to easily travel abroad freely, after the government today has announced new plans to lift strict restrictions.
Previously, the Cuban government required citizens to obtain a letter of invitation from someone in their destination country as well as pay for an expensive exit visa. The restrictions were imposed back in 1961 as a means of stopping a mass migration of citizens fleeing from Cuba after the 1959 revolution which put Fidel Castro in power. The process of obtaining this approval was time consuming and there was no guarantee that the government would grant the permission to leave. This bureaucratic obstacle has been a major impediment for many people who have wanted to travel overseas. Despite the restrictions, many Cubans have emigrated illegally each year, in some cases via dangerous sea voyages in makeshift boats.
Under the new policies, Cuban citizens will only have to show their passport and a visa from the country that they are traveling to if it is needed. They are also allowed to travel abroad for a total of 24 months and are even allowed to request an extension when this runs out. Previously, if Cuban citizens left the country for more than 11 months they would lose their rights to free health care, education and social security. These new changes in the travel restrictions will take effect starting on January 14th.
Many Cubans are booking their travel plans for January in anticipation of the new rules, most of them preparing to take the first trip abroad of their lives.
The change is one of many in a new five year plan which is being implemented by President Raul Castro, which also includes the legalization of home and car sales and an increase in the number of Cubans who are allowed to own private businesses. However, there are still some restrictions in place specifically on scientists, doctors and members of the military, in order to combat brain drain.
(Photograph by Henryk Kotowski – Church at the Columbus Cemetary – Necropolis Colon – in La Habana, Cuba)©Global Goose