The first time the term “Cuban exile” came into the modern lexicon was after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 led by Fidel Castro. Many exiles thought that the new government would not last and left behind their valuables, which ended up being confiscated by the Cuban government.
Since then, a steady stream of Cuban exiles has left the island nation; today, there are over 800,000 living abroad, with the majority of those who went to the United States living in Florida. Now, the Cuban government is extending an open hand to Cuban exiles, allowing some to return for the first time in their lives.
This is the first big shift in Cuba’s immigration policy since 2013, when Cuba’s government relaxed its policy so that island residents were no longer required to apply for an exit permit in order to travel abroad. For the Cuban exiles, it is a landmark decision from a government that has turned its back on the expatriates for decades.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez made the announcement in front of a crowd of Cuban exiles gathered at Howard University in Washington, D.C. last Saturday that the new policies will go into effect January 1st, 2018. Specifically, Rodriguez said that the foreign ministry will authorize the entry and exit of expatriate Cubans through two tourist ports and allow the return of nationals who left the country illegally, with the exception of those who departed from the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. because of the “grave risk” those individuals present to national security.
The good news for Cuban exiles doesn’t end there. Children of Cubans residing outside of the country, even if born in foreign countries, will be able to obtain Cuban citizenship and identification documents.
The new policy shift comes amidst an increasingly shaky US-Cuba relationship, with mysterious attacks on US diplomats in Cuba leading to the withdrawal of US embassy workers and services in Havana and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from Washington. President Trump has publicly blamed Cuba for the attacks, while Lt Col José Alazo of the Cuban interior ministry calling the attacks “impossible” and “science fiction.”
Regardless of who is to blame for the attacks on US diplomats, Rodriguez did not miss his chance to deliver criticism of US foreign policy towards Cuba as part of his recent announcement. “To Cuba, it is unacceptable and immoral that the US government has decided to take political decisions that harm the Cuban people,” Rodriguez said, further stating that “the government of the United States closes and Cuba opens.”
For others, the plus side of the policy shift is a bit simpler. “That’s a big thing, huge,” said Tessie Aral, president of Miami-based ABC Charters, “It will eliminate a lot of paperwork.” ABC Charters is a tour operator and charter service provider that facilitates travel to Cuba, and the eased restrictions for Cubans will significantly decrease the overhead for their business and other businesses like it.