As for the infamous White Card, it's true that Cubans will no longer need an exit permit to travel, but they will still need permission to possess a passport. So, when citizens apply to get this document, they will find out if they are among those who are allowed to cross the national borders or if, on the contrary, they are among the group condemned not to leave. Where once we had to wait for the White Card, now the little blue 32-page pamphlet will have the final word. The "permission to leave" had changed its color and name, but still stands.
So what does this mean for the regime's declared enemies? The dissidents, activists, independent journalists, and bloggers, who were previously unable to travel, will very likely still not be able to do so next year. The crafters of the new law were careful to build in features the government can use to punish its political adversaries with imprisonment on the island. In articles 23 and 25 of the new decree, for instance, we learn that passports can be denied "when reasons of National Defense and Security require it," or "when for other reasons in the public interest as determined by the empowered authorities."
So we shouldn't hold out much hope that in the coming year the Ladies in White, Sakharov Prize Winner Guillermo Farinas, and other members of the opposition will finally be able to accept their international invitations.
I believe it's possible I may hold the sad record of being the person on this planet with the most unused travel visas. My passport is covered in stickers that say I am -- or was -- welcome in a dozen countries. I've left a lot of people waiting in airports.
Although the new law leaves the government the ability to continue to prevent me from accepting those international invitations, I want to believe there is hope. So, I have packed my suitcase, put in some clothes, a pair of shoes, and the image of the Virgin of Safe Journeys given to me by a friend several years ago. On Jan. 14, I will be in my local office to ask for my passport. An official dressed in olive green will tell me yes or no. Meanwhile, my blog, my tweets, my words, will continue to scurry in their various forms through the bars of the absurd travel and immigration laws.
Whatever comes of it, we cannot dismiss the impact these travel and immigration relaxations will have on Cuban society. Much of it won't be good. The new law will increase in the number of Cubans who will live halfway between Madrid and Havana, Buenos Aires and Camagüey, Berlín and Guantánamo -- citizens who will spend the better part of their time outside the island, but maintain their properties here in the hopes of better times. The cleavage of the Cuban population, between those who are politically and economically permitted to have contact with the outside world and those who can't even think of spending the $110 required for a passport, will become sharper.
Travel and immigration reform has proved imperfect, insufficient, and at times frustrating. But in a system controlled so tightly for so many years, any small change can trigger unpredictable consequences. But if there is a saving grace, it's that Cubans know the their pressure and international public opinion have forced the government to relax and reduce the paperwork to enter and leave the country.
Also, the increasingly doddering Fidel Castro is no longer in charge of the national ship and can no longer oppose relaxation of so many of the controls he always maintained with great severity.
Perhaps this is why the jokes on the street suggest a connection between a possible mass migration and the prolonged illness of the Commandante en Jefe. It is no longer Havana's El Morro that will be turned off with the last Cuban to leave, but the prolonged stubbornness of one who condemned us to an island immobility that is due to come to an end.