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The magazine and newspaper vendors in the Cuban capital added this week a new item to their offer: next to the usual Granma and Juventud Rebelde there appeared the Official Gazette of the Republic (organ of normative publicity of the Ministry of Justice). Explanations are not required: its ordinary edition N. 44 of October 16, 2012 published Decree-Law No. 302, which modified the Migration Law (in force for more than thirty years), whose Fifth Final Provision clarifies that the reforms will only be effective starting January 14, 2013.
The media, both national and foreign, immediately reacted to the announcement, and all – with few exceptions – described the new policy as “positive” and welcomed at last the arrival of a legislation that President Raúl Castro had anticipated during his speech at the closing of the Eighth Ordinary Period of Sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power last December.
According to the provisions of the new norm – or better, according to what may be interpreted from the reading of legal precepts that still have not had any practical development – a substantial change is to be inferred in the principles ruling the entrance and exit of Cubans from and to their country of origin. The first of them has to do with the elimination of two irritating difficulties: the exit permit and the invitation letter. Both restrictions disappear to open the way for a very simple procedure restricted to the obtainment of the passport and purchase of the air ticket (taking for granted that the subject who intends to travel has previously received a visa from the country of destination or that has the citizenship of said country).
Another innovation refers to the authority for minors to travel temporarily in the company of relatives, an option that Law No. 1312 of 1976 did not consider at all. According to the stipulation, nothing – except the negative of either parent – would prevent a Cuban adolescent to visit his/her emigrant mother/father (again taking for granted that he receives the corresponding visa).
Some aspects of the law, however, deserve a less enthusiastic consideration. Among them, the one that will probably be most polemical refers to the status of a group of persons who, as a result of the modifications, will still need to receive an additional “permit” to undertake their trip. The categories have been expressly listed in article 1 of Decree No. 306 of the Council of Ministers.
It refers specifically to directives of central organs and executives who carry out “vital activities” for the economic, social or scientific development; high performance athletes and trainers who are “vital” for the sports movement; medium level technicians who perform “vital activities” to maintain the health services and the scientific-technical activity, and graduates from the higher education who perform “vital activities” for the country’s economic, social and scientific-technical development in the strategic programs, research projects and health services. The exact determination of what will be understood by “vital activity” remains– as may be supposed – in the hands of the ministries and institutions with which the work link exists in each case.
A second dark point appears in article 2 of the same Decree, when a distinction is made between those who “may be authorized to travel abroad due to private affairs” and those whose request is “to reside abroad”, in which case they will receive the authorization within a term “that will not exceed five natural calendar years from the date of the request”. The paradox is evident if contrasted with the opinion of the analysts who consider the “temporary exit-definitive exit” dichotomy ended, the same one that has burdened for decades the migratory flow of Cubans in both directions.
A third evidence of ambiguity may be timely detected in the text of the already mentioned Decree-Law No. 302. According to the provisions of a previous legal document – Decree-Law No. 288 of 2011, which modified the General Law of Dwellings – its Fourth Final Provision derogates the obsolete Law No. 989 of 1961 that established the nationalization through confiscation of goods and rights of those who definitely left the country. The new emigrants would have the possibility in the future to sell or transfer their patrimony.
But the dwelling whose title bearer has left irreversibly without performing the sale or transfer continues to be object of confiscation (article 81.1 of said Decree-Law No. 288), now to transmit his/her property to the persons with a right to it. If the division between temporary and definitive exit is considered extinguished, why is the property confiscated? When does the seizure of the dwelling take place? Will it be necessary to wait the 24 months that the absentee may remain abroad before being declared “emigrated”?
Lastly, there is no doubt that Cubans living abroad – in its editorial of October 16 Granma assured that they are established in more than 150 countries – receive certain benefits. It will not be useless to mention, for example, that the emigrants may be able to visit the Island for a period of 90 consecutive days (previously only thirty), while for those who are residents abroad the term extends to six months (180 days). In both cases, extendable.
In Cuba the migratory reform is a fact. Many regulations change, others remain. Many bureaucratic obstacles vanish, others survive. For a start, the free circulation does not seem to have enough space in a text that could have radically left out the distinction between emigrant and resident, and that will continue to stand above our heads like the sword of a stubborn Damocles.
Some observers think “a slow and orderly Mariel” will take place. Others forecast long lines in front of the European embassies awaiting a visa that will never be granted. The most optimistic applaud the legislative novelty and certify, even before putting it into practice, its tuning up with the “international standards”. On the other hand, the immense majority of our fellow citizens, in and outside the Island, welcome the new Migratory Law, in the hope of being witnessing the final act of a historical tragedy: the separation of the Cuban family, which lasts already too long.