Cuban Travel In Record Numbers A Year Into Reform

Daily Business Review


Last February, Amalia Reigosa Blanco experienced for the first time the rush of an airplane taking off. She browsed the clothing shops of Italy's fashion capital, and strolled cobblestone streets echoing with an unfamiliar tongue. She learned what snow feels like.

And then she came home.

"I hope I can go on vacation again," said the 19-year-old language student, breaking into a broad smile as she recalled her first trip overseas, to visit family in Milan. "I'd love to see Paris."

Reigosa was one of the first Cubans to take advantage of a travel reform that went into effect a year ago this week, when the government scrapped an exit visa requirement that for five decades had made it difficult for most islanders to go abroad. The much-hated measure was long justified as necessary to prevent brain drain as scientists, doctors, athletes and other skilled citizens were lured away from the Communist-run nation by the promise of capitalist riches.

A year into the new law, Cubans are traveling in record numbers. Some have not returned, but there's no sign of the mass exodus that some feared. Dissidents are coming and going and raising their international profiles — and money — but there has been little impact on their limited ability to effect political change back home.

"I'm sure there was internal resistance to the migratory reform. I know that in some cases there were ministries that said 'all our doctors are going to leave,' and I can imagine some people in the ideological apparatus saying 'if we let the dissidents travel, this is going to be terrible,'" said Carlos Alzugaray, a longtime Cuban diplomat and prominent intellectual.

"What has life shown?" he asked. "They did the reform, and nothing happened."

Through the end of November, 185,000 Cubans traveled abroad on 258,000 separate trips, a migration official said last month. That represents a 35 percent increase on the previous year.

About 66,000 Cubans traveled to the U.S. during the period, a figure that apparently includes everyone from tourists to islanders with immigrant visas, from researchers on academic exchanges to dual Spanish-Cuban citizens who can enter the U.S. without a visa.

Ania Roman, a 46-year-old cosmetics shop worker, went to Miami in March, but even the clean, quiet streets of the neighborhood where her brother lives weren't temptation enough to remain.

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