Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Will Cuba's New Travel Laws Force the US to Reassess its Cuban Immigration Policies?

A change in Cuba’s travel law which went into effect on Monday has made it easier for islanders to leave the country, but the specifics of the law’s implementation and whether it will cause the United States to reassess its open door policy towards Cuban immigrants remain to be seen. The AP reports that travel agencies and migration offices around the country saw long lines yesterday, as Cubans flocked to take advantage of the shift.

The New York Times notes that the country will continue to limit travel for Cubans working in “strategic sectors” like military personnel or scientists, although doctors will no longer face travel restrictions. Many assumed that opposition activists in the country would also continue to face limits on their travel, but celebrated opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez and dissident Guillermo Fariñas have both said that authorities have informed them they will be free to leave the country and return when they like.

The move is not expected to cause a major shift in migration trends, as most people in the country lack the resources to travel, and most countries require entrance visas in order to limit the number of visiting Cubans.

The obvious exception, however, is the United States, where the “dry foot” policy allows Cubans who make it into the country to stay and become eligible for permanent residency in a year. With the changes to Cuba’s migration law, these same individuals will now no longer have to forfeit their Cuban citizenship, meaning that they can return to the island after receiving US green cards. As the Havana Note’s Anya Landau French points out, this has put the anti-Castro lobby and advocates for the special treatment of Cuban immigrants in a difficult position. She writes:


Even hard-line Cuban American politicians now have mixed feelings about keeping the door open to Cubans. On the one hand, they need the policy to remain in place because it supports their narrative for continuing the embargo. On the other, they now realize that continuing to leave the door open will be the undoing of the embargo itself. Senator Marco Rubio spelled out this fear more than five years ago when he was still serving in the Florida legislature: 
“What makes Cubans different from Haitians who come here or anyone else . . . if they go back and forth, that is to say, if they’re not exiles at all? In that case, why should Cubans be any different? The whole structure would have unraveled had something not been done.”

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen echoed this sentiment more recently. In a January 4th interview with the Café Fuerte blog, she stated that “one cannot claim that one would be persecuted in Cuba while at the same time going back for a visit.”

With the logic behind supporting it beginning to crumble, and a longtime critic of Cuba policy likely to be confirmed as the next secretary of state, it may not be long before the 50-year US trade embargo on the island is finally lifted.


News Briefs
  • Following the Colombian government’s announcement that it will seek to quicken the pace of peace talks with FARC guerrillas, the rebel group’s lead negotiators have agreed and said that they will work to develop concrete agreements with officials as fast as possible, El Pais reports. Meanwhile, El Tiempo profiles the FARC’s initial proposals for land reform in the country, which according to experts consulted by the paper are “viable” and realistic.
  • The L.A. Times reports on the economic woes that Venezuela may face in the near future, fueled by mounting inflation and food scarcity caused by price controls. Many economists predict that if Vice President Nicolas Maduro succeeds President Chavez in office he will be forced to enact cuts to social programs, which could cost him support from his party’s base.
  • In a display of Brazil’s emergence as a diplomatic heavyweight in the region, Reuters reports that the Brazilian government has signaled to Venezuelan officials that it will push for quick elections in the event that Chavez dies. As one anonymous Brazilian official told the wire service, "We are explicitly saying that if Chavez dies, we would like to see elections as soon as possible."
  • Mexico City has been hit by a wave of violence in the past three days, as nearly 40 people were killed in the capital city and the surrounding area. At least 16 people were killed in Mexico state on Moday, and another 22 were murdered in the city over the weekend. The El Universal reports that the government is insisting that the violence is “unusual” and not linked to organized crime.
  • InSight Crime highlights the first-ever study of inmates in Mexico’s federal prisons, conducted by the Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas. The study (.pdf here) found that the country’s prison population is booming thanks to the government’s crackdown on the drug trade, as well as a slow and backlogged court system.
  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez delivered a speech yesterday commemorating a “historic drop in violence” last year, in which murders fell by some 10 percent. Unfortunately, as El Periodico and the BBC report, the mayor of the eastern city of Jutiapa was shot while the president spoke. Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by Prensa Libre finds that support for the president stands at 70 percent in the country.
  • IPS reports on independent media projects in Argentina, where the media has become known for its politicized nature and domination by major monopolies.
  • The BBC covers the struggle of a Brazilian indigenous community that authorities are attempting to evict from the city’s old indigenous museum next to the Maracana soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which the government is readying for the 2014 World Cup.
  • A new survey released by Datum polling firm has found that support for Peru’s President Ollanta Humala has risen to 57 percent, while support for Congress is at only 12 percent, according to El Comercio.