MEXICO CITY -- Cubans now for the first time have the right to travel off the island without a special exit permit, the latest in reforms that the communist government is slowly enacting in hopes of reinvigorating its troubled economy.
The new and much-anticipated regulation went into effect Monday. Eager to take advantage, Cubans lined up from early hours and all day long outside travel agencies and the state offices that issue passports.
Remarkably, it appeared that several longtime Cuban dissidents who have been repeatedly denied permission to travel will also be allowed to leave from and, importantly, return to Cuba. And parents can now determine whether their children travel, instead of it being a mandate of the government.
Renowned antigovernment blogger Yoani Sanchez was among those in line Monday, tweeting that she was told she could travel freely once her passport was issued within 15 days. She has been denied travel dozens of times, including to events at which she was to have received awards for her work.
“I’m crossing my fingers,” she said in a tweet. “I will believe it when I am on the plane.”
The official Communist Party newspaper Granma said the new rules were aimed at making immigration more “legal, orderly and safe” (link in Spanish).
Any fear that the new rules would trigger or allow a mass exodus were tempered by forces that will contain the numbers of Cubans seeking to travel -- namely the cost and the fact that travelers will need a visa from most destination countries.
And it remained unclear whether those valuable citizens who Cuba tries to keep closer tabs on (doctors, athletes) would be allowed to travel so freely, as the government seeks to avoid a significant brain drain.
All that aside, there was great elation among many Cubans that the dreaded exit permit was a thing of the past, and that Cuba was taking another step toward being a normal 21st century country.