Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Almost 300,000 Cubans abroad visited island in '09

Posted on Wednesday, 01.27.10
Almost 300,000 Cubans abroad visited island in '09
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Nearly 300,000 Cubans living abroad visited their homeland
last year, the island's foreign minister said Wednesday, but he insisted
a loosening of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans coming to the
island was "insufficient."

It was unclear if the 2009 figure was a record since the government
rarely releases complete figures on the number of Cubans living overseas
and the frequency of their visits. But Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
said about 296,000 Cubans living abroad came back last year compared to
just 37,000 in 1994.

He did not say how many came from the United States, but the
overwhelming majority of islanders overseas live in the U.S., mostly in
southern Florida and New Jersey. There are other sizable Cuban
communities in Spain, Mexico and Argentina.

In April, President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on Cubans living in
the United States who want to travel or send money to the island. The
move erased limits imposed by the administration of former President
George W. Bush, but has been dismissed by Cuban officials as inadequate.

Rodriguez said Washington has sought to turn Cubans who choose to leave
the island into "refugees who have fled in search of liberty."

Cuba's government offers no statistics on how many of its citizens have
left the island since Fidel Castro toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista on
New Year's Day 1959, though experts put the number at as many as 1.5
million - more than 13 percent of today's entire Cuban population of
about 11.2 million.

Under a 1994 agreement with the Cuban government designed to stop mass
illegal immigration, the United States offers 20,000 visas to Cuban
immigrants per year. Tens of thousands more flee the island secretly
each year, and nearly all who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay.

But even moving away from Cuba legally is not easy. Cubans wanting to
emigrate must obtain official permission from the communist government
to leave, a special passport and, often, a string of additional visas -
as well as having to meet the requirements for the destination country.

Once outside, immigrants face strict Cuban government rules on how long
they have to wait before they can visit the island anew, and how long
they can stay.

The foreign minister's comments kicked off a three-day immigration forum
featuring 450 Cubans who live overseas, including 200 from the United
States. Those invited were considered supportive of the single-party
communist system.

"This is a positive event," said Delia Zurdo, a Miami resident. "I've
lived there for 42 years, but I miss my country and I want to help
defend it, and defend it until I die."

Almost 300,000 Cubans abroad visited island in '09 - World AP - (27 January 2010)

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