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Cuba Loosens Restrictions on Travel Abroad for Its Citizens

October 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Ray Suarez reports on Cuba's move to make foreign travel easier for its citizens. Starting in January, most Cubans will only need a passport and a visa from their destination country, though limitations will remain on professionals like doctors. While Cubans celebrated, officials in Washington regarded the news cautiously.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: word out of Cuba that the communist nation will begin to allow some of its citizens to more easily leave the country.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: For more than 50 years, Cubans looking to travel abroad faced daunting restrictions. But the communist government formally announced today it will no longer require an exit visa and a letter of invitation from a foreign institution or individual.

Starting in January, those desiring to depart Cuba need only a passport and a visa from the destination country. They can remain abroad for up to two years and then request an extension.

In Havana today, the announcement brought surprise and delight.

ISABEL ANDERES, Cuba (through translator): I’m very happy, really happy, because we can now see our families. We can reunite and come and go just like everywhere else in the traveling world.

RAY SUAREZ: The current limitations were put in place shortly after the Cuban revolution that put Fidel Castro in power in 1959. The impending change is the latest under President Raul Castro, who brought limited government reforms since replacing his ailing elder brother in 2008.

It also comes amid the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to nuclear war.

The response in Washington today was cautious. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: We want to see the human rights of the Cuban people respected. This is certainly a step. But I would advise that, even with regard to this step, we await further information, because, as I said, it’s not being implemented until January 14. We need to see how it is implemented.

RAY SUAREZ: And even once the new rules are in place, not everyone is automatically free to go.

Travel limits will likely remain for doctors and other professionals to prevent a brain drain. The Cuban decree also said officials will deny passports if they deem letting an individual go abroad could affect national security.