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Cuba Eases Exit Visa Requirements For Most Of Its Citizens

Cuba announced another set of significant reforms today. This time, President Raúl Castro announced the country is lifting exit visa requirements for most of its citizens.

Beginning January 14, Cuban citizens, with the exception of some professionals like doctors, will no longer need to apply for permission to leave and they won't need a letter of invitation from someone living abroad.

All they will need is a passport and a visa from the country they intend to visit. Remember, this move comes after Castro, who took over for his brother Fidel in 2006, instituted some economic reforms like allowing the sale of private property and allowing the private operation of taxi cabs.

"This new migratory policy takes into account the right of the revolutionary state to defend itself against the subversive plans of the North American government and its allies. Because of that, we'll maintain measures to preserve the human capital created by the revolution," the announcement on the official newspaper of the Communist party read.

Yoani Sánchez, the island's best known dissident blogger, tweeted that the "devil is in the details."

She posted 31-page law and said the reform was "absurd." The law, she wrote, seems to prohibit the exit and reentry of Cubans like her who "organize or participate in actions that are hostile against the country's political foundation."

The AFP reports that one of the complaints about the old migratory rules was that it became prohibitively expensive to jump the hoops.

The exit visa, the AFP says, cost $150 in a country where the average monthly salary is $20.

Sánchez points out that while that cost goes away the price of getting a passport will nearly double to $110.

Still, some analysts that Reuters spoke to called the reforms a "dramatic step forward."

"The long-awaited travel measure brings a modicum of rationality to what had long been an enormous source of political discontent," Julia Sweig, a U.S.-Latin American policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington told Reuters. "Once the United States stops its policy of inducing Cuban doctors to defect, perhaps they, too, will enjoy such freedom."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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