Cuba plans to ease travel restrictions

Cuban president Raúl Castro says he is working to relax Cuba’s migration policies, referring to Cubans abroad who want to travel back to the island and to those at home who want to travel abroad.

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

Castro said his administration “is making advances with the reform and elaboration of a series of regulations” on migration that have lasted “unnecessarily” for a long time.

“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,” he said.

“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.

Cuban observers say the number of Cubans living abroad range from 67,000 to 200,000, including “rafters” or others who left the island illegally.

Cubans now can leave the island only with an exit permit known as a white card, good for a maximum of 30 days and issued only after a security check.

Government opponents, such as bloggers Yoani Sanchez and dissident Guillermo Fariñas seldom, get the permits.

A Communist Party Congress in April proposed a study of the possibility of allowing Cubans to make “tourist trips” abroad.

The gathering of the legislative National Assembly of Peoples’ Power was held behind closed doors, but the official Prensa Latina and National Information Agency (AIN) as well as the state-run television and radio monopolies reported on parts of the proceedings.

The reports noted that the Assembly quickly endorsed Castro’s bold proposals for reforms of the economy, hamstrung by Soviet-styled centralized planning and controls, corruption and a massive bureaucracy.

The Assembly usually meets only twice a year for sessions of three to four days — unlike last week’s Assembly, which lasted just one day.

Virtually all Cuban laws are implemented through “decree laws” issued by the executive, and no Cuban lawmaker has reportedly ever voted “no” on any issue.

Castro also told lawmakers that the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island’s economy had grown by 1.9 percent in the first six months of this year and would hit 2.9 percent by the end of 2011.

During the first half of the year, imports dropped and exports grew as the economy recorded increases in oil, nickel production and “energy efficiency,” and the numbers of tourists arriving on the island, and sugar production stopped falling, Castro told parliament.

But he said there were shortfalls in agriculture, food and construction industries, as well as heavy and light industries.

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