14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 16 May 2023 — Things must be bad at the Palace for the Cuban authorities to have renounced some of the hefty elements involved in making and maintaining passports. The document that identifies us as nationals of this Island will now be good for ten years, instead of six, and the cumbersome need to renew it every two years disappears, eliminating some abusive procedures and costs. But it’s not enough.
A citizenry that long ago stopped hoping that steps in the direction of openness and freedom would be taken from “up there,” was taken by surprise by Tuesday’s announcement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From so much clamoring for immigration flexibility, the demands have escalated to a point where these measures barely alleviate the situation. Their implementation points more to the economic despair of a regime to attract visitors and remittances than to a desire to break down obstacles to the mobility of Cubans.
The 24-month period, as the limit of a stay abroad, is not modified, even if the verbal trick of an exemption for those who were already visiting outside the Island at the most critical moments of the Covid-19 pandemic is presented as such, as it is difficult for them to return. In reality, this two-year limit continues to be one of the great mechanisms of coercion by the Cuban regime, as taking refuge in that time period deprives a national of the right to own property, access public health services or remain indefinitely in the country.
While they lose a few dollars if the passport doesn’t have to be renewed every two years, the authorities maintain the possibility of denying entry to the country to any Cuban who has issued critical opinions against the prevailing political and economic model on the island. They also maintain the status known as “regulated,” the term applied to a prohibition on leaving the island, used against someone they want to punish for their civic behavior, or who they want to force to depart without any possibility of return.
It is likely that these announcements are linked to the immigration negotiations between Washington and Havana. The same government that boasts of its sovereignty does not make a move without taking into account the “enemy of the North,” while it has cared little for decades about the requests of its own people. It always listens more to the White House than to ordinary Cubans. Against the financial ropes, it has had to make a gesture that paves the way to receive tourists and dollars, but is not willing to erode its ideological control over the diaspora in any way.
What is the use of a passport lasting longer if it cannot be used because its holder is prohibited from either leaving the Island or entering their homeland? How does the elimination of the need to extend this document every two years help someone who has not been able to set foot in an airport for more than five years because they are “regulated”? Is there any immigration change in sight that, in addition to monetary relief, really brings respect to the much-vilified condition of being a Cuban citizen?
This Tuesday’s announcements seek to create the false impression that something is moving and improving. But, beyond the savings in paying for the required stamps and hours standing on line outside an office, what is decreed is only a milligram in tons of demands. The main thing remains intact: a party uses national borders as part of its political penalty policy. The carrot is a more durable passport and the stick is summed up in not being able to use it.
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