Government to let Cubans travel freely

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The Associated Press

HAVANA -- The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it will eliminate a half-century-old restriction that requires citizens to get an exit visa to leave the country.

The decree, which takes effect Jan. 14, will eliminate a much-loathed bureaucratic procedure that has kept many Cubans from traveling or moving abroad.

"These measures are truly substantial and profound," said Col. Lamberto Fraga, Cuba's deputy chief of immigration. "What we are doing is not just cosmetic."

Under the new measure announced in the Communist Party daily Granma, islanders will have to show only their passport and a visa from the country they are traveling to.

It is the most significant advance this year in President Raúl Castro's five-year plan of reforms that has already seen the legalization of home and car sales and a big increase in the number of Cubans owning private businesses.

On the streets of Havana, the news was met with a mixture of delight and astonishment.

"No! Wow, how great!" said Mercedes Delgado, 73. "Citizens' rights are being restored."

Migration is a highly politicized issue in Cuba and beyond. Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, the United States allows nearly all Cubans who reach its territory to remain. Granma published an editorial blaming the travel restrictions imposed in 1961 on U.S. attempts to topple the island's government, plant spies and recruit its best-educated citizens.

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The new decree still imposes limits. People can't get a passport or travel abroad without permission if they face criminal charges, if the trip affects national security or if their departure would hurt efforts to keep qualified labor in Cuba. Doctors, scientists and members of the military are among those who face restrictions.

"Measures will remain to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent applied by the powerful," the newspaper said.

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