Cubans free to travel abroad without visas

Cubans free to travel abroad without visas

HAVANA - Agence France-Presse
Cubans free to travel abroad without visas

Cubans now will be able to leave the country with their passports alone. REUTERS photo

A law allowing Cubans to travel abroad without special exit visas took effect on the communist-ruled island yesterday for the first time in half a century.

According to the statute published in the Official Gazette, Cubans can now travel abroad without an exit permit or a foreign invitation provided they have a valid passport. The law came into effect at midnight.The reform was anxiously awaited by Cubans eager to travel after enduring painful restrictions since the Cold War era.

The law is one of the most far-reaching reforms introduced by President Raul Castro since he took over from his ailing brother Fidel in July 2006. First announced last October, the measure does away with the reviled exit visas that have kept most Cubans from ever traveling abroad.

The visas, and invitation letters from a host, cost up to $200 in a country where the average monthly salary is less than $20. Rights groups slammed the previous system for impeding Cubans’ basic freedom of movement.

Raul Castro’s government has ended several unpopular restrictions since 2006. Cubans can now stay in hotels geared to international tourism, sign cell phone contracts and buy electrical appliances. The new system also has allowed Cubans to buy and sell cars and private homes.

But the change taking effect yesterday, Raul Castro’s most dramatic to date, could be a stunning wake-up call to the United States, since it has the potential to set off a bilateral migration crisis. Under a policy dating to the Cold War, the United States still grants any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil legal residency on request. No such U.S. policy exists for nationals of any other country.