Wed, May 11, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Cuba eases ban on foreign travel

AFP, HAVANA

Cubans will be allowed to travel abroad as tourists for the first time in more than 50 years, the government announced on Monday, while leaving details about the reform to be determined.

The measure is one of 313 reforms approved by the Communist Party Congress in the middle of last month.

The measure, published in a government-distributed tabloid sheet, reads: “Study a policy that allows Cubans living in the country to travel abroad as tourists.”

The document gives no further details on the travel policy or date in which it may be implemented, but makes official the decision to authorize travel as part of reforms launched by the Castro regime.

Although travel abroad is not banned outright, Cubans who want to leave need to go through numerous bureaucratic hurdles. A US$150 fee is required for an exit request, which may be denied. Travel abroad is limited to 30 days, and the paperwork authorizing foreign travel amounts to about US$400.

Under the current system, any Cuban who failed to return after 11 months could be declared a “deserter” and lose any possessions in Cuba.

Up to now, travel outside Cuba has been limited mainly to artists, academics, athletes and a small number of businesspeople.

Since the 1959 revolution, the Cuban government had given tourist exit visas mainly to workers deemed “merit-worthy,” and these individuals were given a reward of travel to former Soviet bloc nations in Eastern Europe. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this practice has been largely curtailed.

The change is part of a series of reforms sought by Cuban President Raul Castro to give a jolt to a flagging economy without abandoning socialist principles.

In other significant changes, Cubans would be allowed to buy or sell automobiles or homes, and bank loans would become more widely available.

About 90 percent of Cubans own their homes or pay modest rent to the state. Those who are homeowners pay no taxes on the property, but cannot sell the homes.

Some Cubans get around this through a home exchange called permuta, in which two homeowners agree on a swap. This has led to an underground market in which large sums of money can be exchanged for property deals.

Other reforms call for the possible liquidation of money-losing state-owned enterprises and the creation of cooperatives in some sectors to foster small private firms. Cuba is also seeking to decentralize its agricultural production, hoping to boost production as it imports 80 percent of its food.

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