Cubans may no longer be stuck on Caribbean isle
President Raúl Castro's economic reforms in Cuba appear set to deliver long-sought freedom, even if few can afford to go anywhere.
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Some of the reforms proposed at the Communist Party Congress are already under way, including laying off state workers. Rights to buy and sell real estate or purchase automobiles are yet to come. They're all part of President Castro's effort to bolster state coffers while holding onto the socialist ideals ushered in a half century ago by his aging brother, Fidel, who handed over the presidency in 2008. The 313 reforms lack details, however, so the real scope and impact of change will not be known until the finer print is hammered out when reforms become law.
Many wonder how far the changes will go. "Until it is official, I won't believe it," says Mariela Febles Hernández, an accountant for the state telecommunications agency, who doubts that freedom to travel without any kind of control will happen. "If they allow trips, the vision of Cubans would change diametrically, because we would be able to compare and see what is positive and what is negative about living under this type of government."
Hundreds, and up to thousands, are denied the right to exit each year, according to Human Rights Watch, and illegal "deserters" are not allowed back on the island. Mr. Henken, who regularly organizes panels on Cuba, invited one blogger to New York who was denied permission to leave the island. Ciro Diaz of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo was also recently denied a visa, according to fan comments on Twitter.
"Cuba's travel restrictions provide the authorities with a powerful tool for controlling what its citizens say about the government," according to the 2009 Human Rights Watch report, calling the regulation a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the principle that "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
Yoani Sanchez still denied travel
Those who criticize the government have often been refused permission to leave. Perhaps the most outspoken of them all is the blogger Yoani Sanchez. She met with the Monitor in 2008 upon finding out she had won the Ortega y Gasset award – essentially the Pulitzer Prize of Spanish journalism – and was waiting to see if she would be able to fly to Spain to receive it in person.
She was not. Instead, she gave an acceptance speech, published on her website Generation Y, directed at family and friends in Havana.
In a September 2010 blog, Ms. Sanchez posted a photo of her denied exit permit – it had been the eighth such refusal in three years. Since then she has been denied several more times.
"Many people in the world can't travel because they don't have the money, but they always have the hope to one day be able to do it," says Ms. Febles. "Here, no, and that is what hurts."
•The Monitor contributor in Havana could not be named for security reasons.
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