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Castro says he will ease travel restrictions on Cubans

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro said he is working to relax Cuba's migration policies, almost certainly referring to Cubans abroad who want to travel back to the island but perhaps also — and much more significantly — to Cubans on the island who want to travel abroad.

Castro’s comments to parliament, as reported in the government-run news media, remained unclear late Monday but sparked broad interest among island residents who have long demanded the right to travel abroad without the need for obtaining a government “exit permit.”

He was quoted as saying that the government “is making advances with the reform and elaboration of a series of regulations” on migration that have lasted “unnecessarily” for a long time. But the reports gave no details on exactly who would benefit.

“We take this step as a contribution to the increase in links between the nation and the émigré community, whose makeup has changed radically since the first decades of the revolution,” Castro reportedly said in comments that seemed to indicate that the eased regulations would apply to Cubans abroad.

“In their overwhelming majority Cubans today emigrate because of economic reasons, and almost all of them preserve their love for family and country,” he added. The government for decades referred to Cubans who moved abroad as “counterrevolutionaries” and “worms”

Estimates of the number of Cubans who are living abroad and have been denied Havana permission to return range from 67,000 to 200,000, including “rafters” or others who left the island illegally and those who left legally but stayed abroad more than 11 months.

His comments that the “updating” of the migration regulations would retain measures to “defend” the revolution also seemed to refer to Cubans living abroad, because radical exiles are not allowed to return legally to Cuba.

But his assertion that the regulations would still protect the “human capital created by the revolution” — apparently a reference to Cuban physicians and other professionals who are banned from travelling abroad for tourism or family visits — seemed to hint that the eased regulations would also help Cubans on the island.

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