The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it will no longer require islanders to apply for an exit visa, eliminating a much-loathed bureaucratic procedure that has been a major impediment for many seeking to travel overseas for more than a half-century.
A notice published in Communist Party newspaper Granma said the change takes effect Jan. 14, and beginning on that date islanders will only have to show their passport and a visa from the country they are traveling to.
It is the most significant advance this year in President Raul Castro's five-year plan of reform that has already seen the legalization of home and car sales and a big increase in the number of Cubans owning private businesses.
"As part of the work under way to update the current migratory policy and adjust it to the conditions of the present and the foreseeable future, the Cuban government, in exercise of its sovereignty, has decided to eliminate the procedure of the exit visa for travel to the exterior," read the notice.
Migration is a highly politicized issue in Cuba and beyond its borders.
Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, the United States allows nearly all Cubans who reach its territory to remain. Granma published an accompanying editorial blaming the travel restrictions on U.S. attempts to topple the island's government, plant spies and recruit its best-educated citizens.
"It is because of this that any analysis of Cuba's problematic migration inevitably passes through the policy of hostility that the U.S. government has developed against the country for more than 50 years," the editorial said.
It assured Cubans that the government recognizes their right to travel abroad and said the new measure is part of "an irreversible process of normalization of relations between emigrants and their homeland."
On the streets of Havana, the news was met with a mixture of delight and astonishment, after all the previous times over the years when officials spoke of their desire to lift the exit visa, but talk failed to turn into concrete change.