Supervisors must approve the issuance of passports to government and military officials, professionals, physicians and other medical personnel, top sports figures and others whose work is deemed “vital” to the state, according to the decree.
Passports also can be denied to any Cuban “when it is so determined by the appropriate authorities for other reasons of public interest,” the decree added, or when “reasons of defense and national security suggest it.”
“If that’s the way it is, then I have to believe that the government will be as arbitrary as always,” said Wilfredo Vallín, a Havana lawyer who heads the non-government Cuban Judicial Association.
Also barred from obtaining passports — whose price rose from about $60 to about $110 — are those who are subject to the military draft or have other unspecified “obligations” to the government.
“The government continues to regard migration not as a right of all Cubans but as a gift that it gives to people according to its own interests,” said Juan Antonio Blanco, a Florida International University professor who has studied Cuba’s migration regulations.
The decree also abolishes the reentry permit required for Cubans who live abroad and wish to visit the island, and extends the time they can visit from one month to at least three months per visit.
Not all will be welcomed back, however. Blocked are those who “organize, encourage or participate in hostile actions against the political, economic and social basis of the state,” and any others “when reasons of defense and national security call for it.”
Also on the don’t-come list, according to the decree, are those with criminal records for terrorism, money laundering or weapons smuggling, and those “linked to acts against humanity, human dignity (or) the collective health.”
“This continues the government effort to control the conduct of citizens inside and outside the island, through an opaque system that rewards and punishes at its own discretion,” said Blanco, a former analyst for the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
The migration reforms were the most anticipated of all the changes that Raúl Castro has been talking about and putting in place since he took over from older brother Fidel Castro, temporarily in 2006 and officially in 2008.
The exit permit was required in 1959 initially to block the escape of officials and supporters of the Batista government toppled by the Castro revolution just nine days before. The re-entry permit was required beginning in 1961, to try to control the return of radical Castro opponents.
But Raúl Castro told the nation’s legislature last year that Cuban migration policies needed an update because those leaving the country nowadays are “émigrés for economic reasons” rather than hostile exiles.
Suchlicki, head of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at UM, on Tuesday reissued a column he wrote on May 3 warning that Castro was planning a mass exodus to relieve pressures inside Cuba. The column was titled, “Is Cuba planning a legal Mariel?”
John McAuliff, a New York activist who has long opposed the U.S. embargo on the island, also predicted that with more Cubans free to travel abroad, more will wind up in Mexico and Canada and will step across the U.S. border.
The Obama administration should therefore immediately end the wet-foot, dry-foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. territory to stay permanently, and to remain, McAuliff wrote in an email.
Mauricio Claver Carone, executive director of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington, remained skeptical.
When Cubans start jamming foreign diplomatic missions in Havana in search of visas and come up empty handed, he said, the Castro government will tell them, “Well as you can see, other countries also don’t want you to travel.”
Even more skeptical was Blanco. “When all this blows over, the Cubans and the media will realize that not much has changed in the tight control system,” he said. “Stalin can continue to sleep in peace.”