Continued from page 1

“The kind of changes I’m interested in are not about immigration,” said Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I’m interested in changes that affect fundamental freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.”

U.S. officials skeptical

U.S. officials said they have been anticipating an announcement for months, noting there has been such talk as far back as August.

They remain skeptical that the Castro regime is truly committed to such reform.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States “would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.”

Rumors of the exit visa’s imminent demise have circulated for years.

The whispers became open chatter last year after the Communist Party endorsed migration reform at a crucial gathering. Mr. Castro dashed those hopes in December, saying the timing wasn’t right and the “fate of the revolution” was at stake.

Mr. Alarcon’s comments, made in an interview published in April, revived hope that a bold move is coming.

“One of the questions that we are currently discussing at the highest level of the government is the question of emigration,” he told a French journalist.

“We are working toward a radical and profound reform of emigration that in the months to come will eliminate this kind of restriction.”

However, Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez last week told exiles not to set their hopes too high, vowing the government would maintain some travel controls as long as it faced a threat from opponents in Washington.

Havana residents say they are anxiously waiting to see what the government does.

“The time has come to get rid of the exit visa,” said Vivian Delgado, a shop worker.

“It’s absurd that as a Cuban, I must get permission to leave my country, and even worse that I need permission to come back.”

Story Continues →