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Domingo Blanco, a 24-year-old state office worker added, “It’s as if one needed to ask to leave one’s own house.”

Many Cubans are reluctant to talk about their own experience with the exit visa. One woman named Miru, who has been trying to leave Cuba since 2006, shared her story on the condition her full name not be used for fear that speaking with a foreign journalist could get her in trouble.

“This has been a very long process,” she said of her odyssey, which began when her husband defected from a medical mission in Africa and sought asylum in the United States.

First, she had to get a letter releasing her from her job at a government ministry. That process took five years.

Three months ago, she applied for an exist visa but has yet to receive an answer. Officials say her case is complicated but will not give a specific reason for the delay.

“I am very anxious to see my husband again,” she said.

Cuba’s Berlin Wall

The exit controls are a Cold War legacy of Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union.

They were instituted in December 1961 to counteract a brain drain, as hundreds of thousands of doctors and other professionals fled, many for new lives in Florida. That was three months before the U.S. embargo barring most trade with the island went into full effect.

Over the years, it has become much easier for Cubans to obtain permission to travel, though many are still denied. It is particularly hard to take children out of the country.

The exit visa’s $150 price tag is a small fortune in a country where salaries average about $20 a month. In addition, the person the traveler wishes to visit must pay $200 at a Cuban consulate.

Those who leave get only a 30-day pass, and the cost of an extension varies by country. In the United States, the fee is $130 a month. Those who stay abroad more than 11 months lose the right to reside in Cuba. Before 2011, any property would automatically go to the state.

“The Cuban government has monetized every part of the humiliating process of coming and going,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba expert and author of “Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington.”

“Getting out means running a gantlet, and it is all based on how much humiliation you can endure, and by the time they end up in Miami, people are filled with hate and dreams of revenge.”

It is unclear how emigration reform will affect dissidents, who are routinely denied permission to leave and could still find themselves on some form of no-exit list.

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