Travel Restrictions to Ease for Cubans But Limits Will Remain

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Jeb Sharp: I'm Jeb Sharp and this is The World. A new law goes into effect next week in Cuba. It will allow Cubans to travel out of the country without having to first get permission from their own government. That's potentially a huge change for the Communist-ruled island. But like other new rules being introduced in Cuba today, there are limits. Miriam Leiva is an independent Cuban journalist in Havana. Independent means her work is published overseas, not in Cuba's state-run media. Leiva is also the founder and former member of the Ladies in White, an opposition movement of wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents in Cuba. Miriam, will the new law that takes effect on Monday mean a Cuban can simply book a flight and head out of the country? Is it that simple?

Miriam Leiva: No, it's not that simple. You have to apply for a passport and maybe you would not get it.

Sharp: How did the old law work and what did it cost?

Leiva: The old law said that you have to apply for an invitation from someone abroad. Then you have to get the visa from the country and you have to apply for a passport. And also you have to ask for permission to leave. They call it here the white card. The white card. Why? Because the leaf that you receive was white. You know, everybody talk here about the white card, and that was the permission to leave the country.

Sharp: And how much did that cost, the whole process?

Leiva: It cost around $250. If you weren't granted the permission, you would lose all the money.

Sharp: Lose all the money. You would lose all the money.

Leiva: Yes.

Sharp: And the new law, how is it different, and is it cheaper?

Leiva: Well, the passport costs $100 more or less, and if you are granted the passport you can leave, but still the government can say, well, we're not going to grant you the passport and then you can't travel.

Sharp: So you think it's all going to come down to whether someone is granted a passport or not.

Leiva: Yes, and besides that, the law states that everyone needs to be authorized by the place where they work. For example, if you're an official or you are a professional, you need to be authorized by the place where you work, and here in Cuba, most of the employers are from the state, are state-owned places.

Sharp: Do you know anyone who's going to test the law?

Leiva: Yes, I know many people who are going to apply for the passport, and are hopeful. Millions of Cubans that are not professionals or already retired and don't have, let's say are not marked by political problems, know that they would get the passport. And many, many others are wishing but are not sure that they would. But anyway, there is a great social pressure inside Cuba, and this is a way to let them go out, when they are away they can work, they can send money to their families here and they might come back and be even useful because of their expertise when they come back.

Sharp: So you see why the government is trying to do this?

Leiva: Yes. Mainly, I think the government is doing this because it needs to ease the social pressure that is in Cuba. Cubans are losing fear, they are speaking out, they are each day more worried about their situation and striving more for the everyday life that is very harsh. And besides that the government knows that it's going to receive money back because there will be [xx]. Right now, the money that is sent by Cubans abroad is one of the main incomes that the Cuban government has in hard currency, in foreign money.

Sharp: Miriam, your English is really good. I'm curious why.

Leiva: Well, when I was a little girl, I lived in Connecticut for three years. My parents decided to go to the United States in 1956 because there was a dictatorship here in Cuba, and there was an economic crisis too. We have relatives, we had relatives in Connecticut so we went there, had a normal, good life, and I studied in school in Connecticut, and I had very good experiences. And, you know, so I lived in the United States.

Sharp: How did you end up back in Cuba?

Leiva: My father was very hopeful, and, you know, he was enthusiastic about the revolution and the changes that could come up, and that's why we came back.

Sharp: Great, we'll leave it there, Miriam. Miriam Leiva has been speaking to us from Havana. She's a Cuban independent journalist who's been involved in human rights in Cuba since the early 1990s. Thanks again, Miriam.

Leiva: Thank you. Bye.