The even more significant change was an end to the disgraceful exit permit, popularly known as the "White Card." Until last month, we Cubans were among the very few citizens of the world who needed the consent of the Ministry of the Interior to leave our own country. The reasons for the continuation of the policy weren't only political -- at $170 per White Card, the program was an attractive source of revenue for the government.
Following the announcement, the international press reported with great excitement that Raul Castro's regime was opening the national borders. But for Cuban citizens, the joy lasted just about as long as it took to read the 31 pages of the new law.
By the evening Oct. 2, the early critiques of the reform were already emerging. Health care professionals noticed that they were still required to obtain permission to travel. The Cuban government defends travel restrictions for doctors and scientists with the argument that the "brain drain" could take many of them to countries that pay better salaries. Thus, in the newly released law, state control is actually strengthened over the travel of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even laboratory workers.
The fine print of Decree Law 302 doesn't stop there. The restrictions on leaving are even more severe for other professionals such as teachers and professors. Frightened by the growing loss of personnel in the field of education, Cuban leaders are trying to put a brake on escapes from the classroom. And they are doing it in the way it has always been done, not by paying better salaries or improving working conditions, but by force.
One of the perverse incentives unleashed by this strategy is expected to be enrollment declines for professional, legal, and engineering studies. If students know ahead of time that once they graduate in certain specialties it will be very difficult for them to travel, they will avoid getting degrees in them. A measure intended to fight "brain drain" could generate a decrease in the numbers who aspire to higher education.
Notably absent from the new relaxations are Cuban emigrants. The time allowed for their visits home was increased -- from 60 to 90 days, but the right to reside permanently in the country of their birth has not been returned to them. Repatriation for these people will have to be processed in the Cuban consulate of their country of residence, and will only be authorized in very specific cases, such as terminal illness or others.
Nor will these immigrants who return home be permitted to own property on the island, to buy houses or cars, or to inherit any of these possessions. Under the new law, Cubans around the world will continue to be third-class citizens, who support the economy -- with their remittances -- of a country that doesn't not want them back.