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Cuba: Nearly 183,000 travel abroad since reform

September 25, 2013

HAVANA (AP) — Nearly 183,000 Cubans have traveled overseas since a migratory reform law took effect earlier this year, island authorities said late Tuesday.

A report on state television said 182,799 people have traveled abroad since January, when the reform eliminated the costly, much-loathed exit visa that for decades was required of all islanders.

The reform also scrapped the practice of requiring Cubans to secure a letter of invitation from someone in the country they wished to visit.

“The enactment of the new measures has taken place in a climate of normality, of internal and external acceptance,” a television news presenter said against video images of the Havana airport and passport office.

There are no official figures in the public domain for comparison to how many traveled in 2012, under the previous migratory rules, but the presenter said the 2013 numbers represented a slight increase.

Late last year, Council of State secretary Homero Acosta said more than 941,000 Cubans had gone overseas between 2000 and Aug. 31, 2012. That averages out to about 75,000 annually over the 12.5-year period, though there’s no way to account for yearly variations and trends.

The travel law was one of the most highly anticipated of President Raul Castro’s social and economic reforms, begun in 2010.

Many of the most vocal members of Cuba’s dissident community have been allowed to travel overseas under the new rules, accept rights prizes and bash the island’s Communist system in speeches.

The exit visa was often denied to the dissidents, as well as personnel in key or sensitive sectors like health and the military.

Cubans must still secure entry visas from their destination countries, which can be a pricey and difficult process.

The travel reform also extended to two years the length of time Cubans can stay away without losing the full rights of residence, such as free health care and other subsidies, and established a mechanism by which emigrants can apply to return.

Tuesday night’s program also reported that 1,900 people have submitted applications seeking to reestablish residency since January.

Cuba is still seeing a net migratory outflux, with 46,662 people emigrating last year. It’s the highest since 1994, when 47,844 islanders left as the country as the collapse of the Soviet Union plunged Cuba into a severe economic crisis.

Col. Lamberto Fraga of the Interior Ministry’s immigration office told the program that there has been no “exodus” under the new rules, however.

According to 2012 census figures published Tuesday in Communist Party newspaper Granma, Cuba has a population of 11,167,325, down 10,418 from the previous census 10 years earlier.


Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

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