Is a wave of liberalization coming to Cuba’s shores? The Cuban government just announced a plan to ease restrictions on travel abroad for the first time since the 1960s. Previously, Cubans looking to leave the country were required to jump through a series of tough obstacles to earn the right to leave the country; now a passport and a visa will do the trick.Naturally, Cubans are excited about the change, but as the WSJ notes, there are a number of exceptions, and many outside analysts doubt whether the new rules will actually change things for many Cubans:
Not all Cubans will benefit from the changes. Granma said the regime will maintain restrictions to “preserve the human capital created by the Revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations,” apparently a reference to Cuba’s doctors, whom the U.S. has tried to woo, and other professionals. The state said it will also restrict passports to people for reasons of national security. . .Archibald Ritter, a Cuba expert at Canada’s Carleton University, said he expected Cuba would lose many young people who want to leave the island, but that economic constraints—the average Cuban salary is about $25 a month—would prevent many from traveling.”Cuba will lose a lot of young people,” said Mr. Ritter. “They are so anxious to leave Cuba and see the world. They feel imprisoned there.”
Any move that increases human freedom in a country like Cuba is welcome, so Via Meadia is happy to see that Cuban authorities are making it easier for their citizens to go abroad. But this move should not be taken as a sign of serious liberalization on the island. Allowing people who are very unhappy to leave Cuba is one of the ways that the Castro family has kept control of the island since 1959. Why repress dissidents and have all kinds of unhappy, dissatisfied people at home when you can convert them into cash cows by sending them abroad? (Remittances sent back to the island by refugees and economic migrants working overseas have been one of the life-preservers keeping Cuba’s chronically depressed economy afloat.) The new policy easing travel restrictions just marks the latest move in a long-term regime strategy rather than real change.Nevertheless, a lot of Cubans will welcome these new freedoms, however constrained. We share their joy.