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… And here comes the political reform

This morning Cubans awoke to learn in the daily Granma newspaper that after years of discussion and rumors, the carta blanca policy that requires Cubans to receive permission to travel from Cuba for any length of time will be rescinded. As of January 14, when this new policy goes into effect, Cuban citizens will need only a passport and a visa from a destination country in order to travel abroad. The biggest roadblock to such travel has long been the required exit permit: permission is hard to come by and often arbitrarily denied, and the cost of the permit itself is largely out of reach.

The importance of this government announcement cannot be exaggerated. It is the most significant migration reform in half a century, and the language in the announcement left the door open for further changes in the future: “In due course, other measures related to the migratory issue will be adopted that will certainly help in the consolidation of the efforts being made by the Revolution towards the full normalization of Cuba’s relations with its emigrants.”

There are still open questions. How will this impact Cubans currently living abroad? Will the specifications regarding “preserving the human capital created by the Revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations” prevent most (some? many?) Cubans from taking advantage of this new freedom? And how will this new policy actually manifest itself in practice?

Skeptics range from Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a regularly vehement pro-embargo voice, to Elizardo Sanchez, a Cuban dissident living on the island who is head of the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. And if this is a guise, then their critiques are valid.

However, the reasons for a Castro government to create a smoke screen on this issue are few. The uptick in public and international regard for Cuba’s respect of freedoms and human rights will be quite brief if results are not realized after January 14. The state has set a clear date for implementation, and has thus invited international observation and scrutiny on the follow-through. The excitement on the island, as well, could quickly give way to increased discontent if this very public promise does not now bear fruit.

The Cuban government does not need a disillusioned populace next year, nor does it particularly need a cautiously optimistic international community at the moment, so why try to “fool the world,” as Ros-Lehtinen put it? Washington will not be adjusting policies in the very short term before we see what this looks like in practice (and certainly not in advance of the presidential election), and many other nations trade and invest in Cuba without seeing these kinds of reform. What Cuba does need is a generally improved, more efficient, and more friendly economic and political system that is more widely supported among its populace, its émigrés, and its partners abroad. This kind of reform has long been red-flagged as one key part in a series of policy changes on the island.

What this means, then, is that in addition to the economic reforms we’ve seen over the past several years, we are finally seeing the kind of political reforms related to individual freedoms that global actors have been clamoring for, and upon which the Obama administration has made any changes in Cuba policy contingent. We cannot expect a flood of other reforms in the immediate term, but we can acknowledge this step and encourage it.

(Photo credit: Tony Hisgett)

 
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Comments (5)

  1. A loyal fan Wednesday - 17 / 10 / 2012 Reply
    Thank you for your usual excellent analysis - and way to beat the New York Times with this update!!
    • Melissa Lockhart Fortner
      Melissa Lockhart Fortner Tuesday - 23 / 10 / 2012 Reply
      My thanks to you for reading and commenting!
  2. T Gonzalez Wednesday - 17 / 10 / 2012 Reply
    As the old adage says: "The proof is in the pudding." We'll see just how free to travel when dissidents such as Johani Sanchez (who's been denied permission to travel about twenty times) attempts to renew her passport. I suspect, that either she'll be denied a passport or she'll be allowed to travel and then denied reentry. We shall all ultimately see whether this is a genuine opening or just more "sizzle" to make the Castro dynasty more palatable.
    • Melissa Lockhart Fortner
      Melissa Lockhart Fortner Tuesday - 23 / 10 / 2012 Reply
      It will indeed be interesting to see how this affects various groups and individuals - whether that means doctors and other professionals, which Havana has already said will have different standards to which they are held, or dissidents, for whom Havana has long had competing reasons to want to stay and want to leave.
  3. CaseyC Friday - 19 / 10 / 2012 Reply
    This can be potentially horrific for the United States. The US currently has a policy of is a Cuban gets on American land, they are granted political refuge and citizenship (because we believed that they were fleeing from communism). However, Castro is being extremely clever. He is offering Cubans the opportunity to travel to the United States so that they can possible gain “refuge” and subsequent citizenship. However, what concerns me the most is the types of people that the Cuban government will allow to travel to the United States. There was an incident a while back where prisoners tried to get to American soil so they could become citizens (a very clever trick on Castro’s part as well). I’m concerned about whether or not Castro will try something like this again and get prisoners to defect to America as well as other “unfavorable” people. Or it could go in the completely opposite direction. The Cubans who travel to the US and other westernized countries may bring back technology and drive to improve their living conditions and therefore deliver a “push” to the Cuban economy.

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Author

Melissa Lockhart Fortner
Melissa Lockhart Fortner

Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, having served previously as Senior Programs Officer for the Council. From 2007-2009, she held a research position at the University of Southern California (USC) School of International Relations, where she closely followed economic and political developments in Mexico and in Cuba, and analyzed broader Latin American trends. Her research considered the rise and relative successes of Latin American multinationals (multilatinas); economic, social and political changes in Central America since the civil wars in the region; and Wal-Mart’s role in Latin America, among other topics. Melissa is a graduate of Pomona College, and currently resides in Pasadena, California, with her husband, Jeff Fortner.

Follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.

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