Mass exodus in store for Cuba?

It's removed its crushing travel restrictions, but don't expect foreign embassies to start handing out visas

Topics: Cuba, Communism, GlobalPost, Raul Castro, Fidel Castro,

Mass exodus in store for Cuba?Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global Post HAVANA, Cuba — The predictions of a mass exodus began soon after the Cuban government announced this week it was moving to scrap the odious travel restrictions that have micromanaged the comings and goings of Cubans for more than 50 years.

Since islanders won’t need an “exit permit” to travel anymore — just a passport — many expect a flood of visa applications at foreign embassies once the new policy takes effect Jan. 14.

Maybe so. But probably not.

The reality is that for years the vast majority of Cubans who wanted to travel — and could afford to — were not denied the exit permit to leave the country. More than 30,000 a year emigrate from the island, mostly to the United States. They include the more than 7,000 who arrive illegally, typically across the US-Mexican border or by boat. Any Cuban who reaches US territory is eligible for US residency under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.

Still, the process of obtaining travel permission was onerous and expensive, with an exit permit costing the equivalent of $170 — more than eight times the average monthly state salary. And there’s no guarantee that the permit would ultimately be granted by immigration authorities. The exit visa requirement became a hated symbol of the communist government’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy and Orwellian controls on personal freedom.

The difficulty of leaving the island became an incentive to stay away, even as Cuba’s state-run economy became more and more dependent on the hard currency sent back by the approximately 1.5 million islanders living abroad.

President Raul Castro may also see the move as a way to trim the number of employees on bloated state payrolls over the next few years, with the government planning to eliminate hundreds of thousands of superfluous workers.

Authorities in Havana say their new measures are designed to facilitate the ability of ordinary Cubans to come and go, and to normalize the relationship between Cuban emigres and their homeland. It’s a change that will especially favor Cubans who might want to work abroad but continue to live part of the year at home, taking advantage of the island’s low cost of living, free health care and other services.

In that regard, the move paves the way for Cuba to increasingly resemble other Latin American and Caribbean economies that rely upon the cash sent home by a large expatriate workforce.

“These measures are truly substantial and profound,” said Col. Lamberto Fraga, Cuba’s second-highest-ranking immigration official, in a press conference following the announcement. “What we are doing is not just cosmetic,” he said.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington welcomed the news, and was “analyzing the details” to see how it might affect the way Cuban visas are processed.

The move to restore travel rights is part of the 81-year-old Castro’s broader reform agenda eliminating some of the restrictions on individual freedoms that fostered deep resentment here, especially among younger Cubans.

In the past several years, Castro has ended prohibitions for Cubans to own cell phones, stay in tourist hotels, open small businesses and buy and sell their homes or used cars.

Castro opponents and Cuban dissidents remained skeptical of the moves, but they have generated palpable enthusiasm and praise on the streets of Havana.

“The government is taking positive steps to give back our freedoms,” said Roberto Perez, who was applying for a passport outside an immigration office in Havana. “We’ve been captives in our own country for too long.”

The number of Cubans who will try to leave the island is almost certain to rise, but the increase may not be as dramatic as many forecast.

For starters, it’s unlikely that foreign embassies and consulates in Havana will begin eagerly handing out visas, particularly to Cubans who lack professional skills or don’t have relatives abroad who can support them financially once they arrive.

Cuba has long justified its travel restrictions on US laws that grant residency to any islander who sets foot on US soil. The restrictions were first imposed in 1961 when many of the country’s best-educated professionals fled Fidel Castro’s Revolution and took their skills and smarts to Miami.

The new immigration rules still contain measures designed to stop Cuba’s top talent from seeking higher salaries elsewhere. An editorial in the Communist Party newspaper, Granma, says the control mechanisms will stay in place if US policies continue to entice doctors and others to defect.

“As long as the policies continue to encourage a ‘brain drain’ to deprive us of essential human resources for the economic, social and scientific development of the country, Cuba will be obligated to take measures to defend itself,” the editorial said.

Col. Fraga, the immigration official, said the new rules aren’t a blanket ban on personal travel for those workers — including doctors, professional athletes, scientists and government officials with access to sensitive information. “It’s not that they won’t be able to leave, only that they will require authorization,” he said.

As with many of the other changes that Cuba has made in recent years, authorities left themselves considerable room to maneuver should their reforms produce unintended outcomes.

The new immigration laws appear to give authorities broad discretion as to the definition of an “essential” worker, for example. In government ministries, supervisors are being asked to draft a list of workers who will continue to need special authorization to travel.

In making such exceptions, however, the government is taking a long-term risk that it will discourage an entire generation of young Cubans from pursuing professional degrees in strategic fields, knowing that those careers will carry limits on their personal freedoms.

And few expect the government to cease using travel rights as a way to punish Cuban dissidents. The new policy says any Cuban can be denied a passport “when it is in the public interest, as determined by the appointed authorities.”

Still, at its core, the reform measure is a bet that if Cubans are given greater freedom to come and go, more will choose to leave but more will also choose to return.

Nick Miroff is a staff writer at The Washington Post, an NPR contributor and a senior correspondent for GlobalPost.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>