Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cubans should be free to travel, says Castro daughter

Cubans should be free to travel, says Castro daughter

Published on Monday, May 12, 2008

MADRID, Spain (AFP): The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro said in
an interview published in a Spanish newspaper on Saturday that Cubans
should be free to leave the country as they wish.

Cubans have to seek advance authorisation to travel abroad and the
communist authorities in Havana prevented Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez
from travelling to Madrid this week to receive a top journalism prize
from Spain's El Pais daily.

"It is not necessary to deprive people of their right to leave. I think
we should grant permission to all those who want to leave," Mariela
Castro said in reply to a question about the desire for Cubans to be
allowed to travel freely, in an interview with La Vanguardia.

"People can leave, but with a great amount of difficulty," admitted the
sexologist who defends the rights of gay and lesbian minorities but who
says she does not seek a political role in her homeland.

She believes her father, who in February succeeded his ailing older
brother Fidel -- the 81-year-old revolutionary icon -- wants to usher in
reforms but "slowly."

"We do not want to install a consumer society, but to produce the goods
and the services that people need," Mariela Castro said.

She added that Cuba's Communist Party was far less rigid than it once
was but would remain in power as long as Cuba was a "besieged country,"
a thinly-veiled reference to the United States and US sanctions.

The Spanish daily El Pais in April cited an unnamed government official
as saying Raul Castro will give a green light soon to migration reform,
simplifying exit and entry permits and ending the requirement for people
to get permission to leave the country.

The potential shift would be the most momentous to date by the
76-year-old president, who took office in February and has ended several
smaller prohibitions.

In an economically-stressed country of more than 11 million people, such
a policy change would test Cuba's stability, as the nearby United States
grants automatic residency and working rights to all Cubans who reach US

Raul Castro has tried to improve living standards by allowing Cubans to
stay in tourist hotels, take out mobile phone contracts, and buy
appliances such as computers, motorbikes and pressure cookers.
The government is also launching some farm reforms in a bid to boost
food production, which Havana calls a top national security issue.

US President George W. Bush urged Cuba earlier this week to free
political prisoners and dismissed the new president's reforms so far as

"If Cuba wants to join the community of civilized nations, then Cuban
rulers must begin a process of peaceful and democratic change and the
first step must be the release of all political prisoners," Bush said.

"This is the policy of the United States and it must not change until
the people of Cuba are free," he told the 38th Washington Conference of
the Americas.

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