March 12, 2014
Cubans cleared for travel under new law
Cuba's new, freer travel policy took effect today and for some notable Cuban dissidents it turned out to offer greater freedom than they had expected.
Well-known government opponents Yoani Sanchez and Guillermo Farinas were told they would be granted passports and allowed to come and go after years of being denied that right.
Under laws put into effect to slow migration after the 1959 revolution, Cubans were required to get an exit visa from the government and a letter of invitation from someone in their destination country, but the new policy drops both.
Farinas, who from his home in Santa Clara has staged numerous hunger strikes against government policy, said, to his surprise, he was visited at home by officials who told him he would be able to travel freely.
"I was really skeptical because there was an article in the new law that said those Cubans who threaten the public interest won't be able to leave Cuba. I thought I was in that sphere, but it looks like not," said Farinas, a psychologist.
He said he would get his passport renewed soon and planned to go to Europe to pick up several prizes he had won but been unable to collect. They included the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010.
Sanchez, well known internationally for her blog "Generation Y," could not be reached, but posted her good news on Twitter.
She said went to a Havana passport office on Monday, where "the functionary who attended me has assured me that when I have the passport I will be able to travel. I still don't believe it!" she wrote. "When I am on the plane, I'll believe it!"
Sanchez said Cuban authorities had denied her trips on 20 occasions. She said she expected to get a passport in early February.
Fellow dissident Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights, said it remained to be seen if Farinas or Sanchez truly will be allowed to travel.
"Until they are on that airplane we can't be sure of anything. It has happened in the past that people have arrived at the airport and the government has said no," Sanchez said.