Cuban leaders talk of less rigidity on travel, other issues

20th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

A month after Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro formally stepped down, the Cuban government was considering reforms to make migration and other issues more flexible, although it evaded details other than those pertaining to travel and migration.

19 March 2008

Havana (dpa) - A month after Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro formally stepped down, the Cuban government was considering reforms to make migration and other issues more flexible, although it evaded details other than those pertaining to travel and migration.

The reforms could include scrapping "all" prohibitions that have been made "obsolete," Eliades Acosta, culture secretary of the Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee, told reporters during a meeting of Cubans living abroad.

Cubans "expect and need" such measures, Acosta said.

"There is a group of measures that are being evaluated, that are being analyzed, and that will go into force as soon as possible," he said.

In recent days, there has been talk of reform, including liberalization of the sale of computers and other domestic appliances, incentives for agriculture and the admission of Cubans to the Caribbean island's luxury hotels.

One unofficial document being circulated even suggests that computers and other electric appliances may start to be sold without restrictions.

However, there was no official confirmation of such reforms on Wednesday.

"We are working on what we say, and we fulfil what we say," said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Perez Roque told the gathering that changes in immigration regulations could include the possibility of longer stays abroad and even the elimination of exit visas.

"We are firm in our commitment to make ever more fluid the relationship between Cubans living abroad and Cuba, and making the procedure and the regulations on that issue faster," Perez Roque said during a meeting in Havana with Cubans living abroad.

Current law limits stays abroad to 11 months.

The travel reforms have been mentioned by Castro's brother and successor, Raul Castro, during his interim presidency while Castro was recuperating from an intestinal illness.

"We are firm in our commitment to make ever more fluid the relationship between Cubans living abroad and Cuba, and making the procedure and the regulations on that issue faster," Perez Roque said during a meeting in Havana with Cubans living abroad.

Acosta, who also gave little detail, said among the prohibitions being considered for reform, "none will be left out, all" are being considered.

"That is what this is about, eliminating prohibitions that are obsolete and allowing people to live in a more natural, more normal way," Acosta said, with little detail.

Several delegates at the meeting of Cubans Living Abroad Against the Blockade and Terrorism told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that there is even discussion about the possible elimination of the "carta blanca," the exit visa that Cubans need to leave the country.

Cuba is one of a few countries whose residents require exit visas to go abroad. The process, which sometimes includes the need for an invitation letter, costs Cubans some 400 dollars, a very high figure for a country where the average monthly wage is 15-20 dollars.

"We hope that even today (Wednesday) they will give us very good news here, even as from today there will be many new (migratory) laws that will come out of this meeting," said the delegate Juana Navarro, a resident of Germany.

Perez Roque said the "policy of aggression" by the United States against the island is "the greatest obstacle" to the "full normalization" of relations between Cuba and its migrants, but said the rapprochement is "continuous and irreversible."

He recalled that, of 1.3-1.5 million Cubans living abroad, more than 800,000 have consulted Cuban consulates, and almost 400,000 have "normalized" their migration status.

According to official figures, some 193,000 Cubans living abroad visited the communist island in 2007, which Perez Roque called a "new record."

The meeting from Wednesday-Friday included 129 representatives of Cuban organizations in 34 countries that are "committed and active" in Cuba's "main battles," Perez Roque said.

After Raul Castro announced the "elimination" of an "excess of prohibitions and more simple regulations" when he was inaugurated on February 24, rumour has been rife was to what this may mean.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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