Cubans line up for passports as travel reform deadline nears

by
January 12, 2013

Immigration officers wait for travellers at the control checkpoint at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport
HAVANA | With paperwork in their hands and dreams of faraway places in their heads, Cubans waited in long lines this week to apply for passports ahead of a major liberalization of travel policies in place for more than half a century.

Starting on Monday, most will be able to leave the country with just a passport and no need for much-hated exit visas and letters of invitation the communist government imposed in 1961 to slow a mass exodus of people fleeing after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

The reform was announced in October to address the near universal complaints by Cubans about the expensive and time-consuming paperwork requirements that purposely made it difficult to leave the island.

They were fodder for Castro opponents who charged the Cuban government was a brutal dictatorship that deprived its people of the right to travel and other freedoms.

The passport seekers told Reuters they wanted to reunite with family members, seek more economic opportunity or simply see more of the world from which they have been isolated since the revolution.

SEEKING JOBS, FAMILY

“I’m thinking of going to Venezuela or Angola to work,” said Ruben Osorio the 45-year-old proprietor of a small Havana coffee shop who wants to make more money to support his wife and three kids.

He said he has friends in Angola from his time there as a young soldier during Cuba’s African military interventions in the 1980s and family in Venezuela.

“No matter how much I work here, no matter how much coffee I can sell, I’m never going to make what I could make in one month in either one of those countries,” Osorio said, puffing on a cigarette while standing in the tropical sun.

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