Is Cuba planning a legal Mariel?**


Jaime Suchlicki, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami




The Cuban government announced on October 16 that it will scrap most of its travel restrictions starting in January. The government of General Raul Castro will allow Cubans, except military, physicians and scientists, to request passports and solicit visas from any country. No exit visas will be required.


The measure extends to 24 months, from the current 11, the amount of time Cubans can be out of the country without losing rights and property. They can also seek an extension.


Following is a Cuba Focus that we published on May 3, 2012 anticipating these changes and their implication.




The Cuban government is planning migration reforms that will have major implications for the U.S. The reforms may allow most Cubans to travel freely as tourists to any country. Charges for requesting a Cuban permit to travel will be reduced or totally eliminated and the categories of Cubans allowed to travel will be expanded. Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba’s Parliament, explained on April 13, 2012, that the Cuban government “is discussing at the highest level the migration issue.” “We will carry out,” said Alarcon, “a radical and profound migration reform in the next few months.”**




  • Cubans will be lining up in front of foreign embassies on the island to request tourist visas.
  • The U.S. Interest Section in Havana will be most impacted, since most Cubans on the island would want to visit the U.S.
  • Most Cubans visiting the U.S. will stay. Given the provisions of the Cuban Adjustment Act that allow Cubans that reach American soil to stay as permanent residents; Cubans will use this legal method to remain in the U.S.
  • Money for travel will be provided primarily by Cuban-Americans desirous of getting their families out of the island.
  • The other country likely to be most affected is Mexico. Since the Mexican-U.S. border is a major entrance point into the U.S., Cubans unable to obtain a U.S. visa will seek a Mexican or other Central American countries visa. All of these Cubans will eventually end up in the U.S.
  • Airlines bringing foreign tourists and Cuban-Americans to Cuba will benefit most. Since their planes are now returning partially empty, Cubans traveling abroad will fill those empty seats.


Why Would Raul Do This?


  • It would relieve internal pressure as the Cuban regime shifts the burden of feeding and caring for a great number of Cubans from the island to the U.S.
  • It creates another important escape valve, weakening internal opposition.
  • It eliminates one of the major complaints of Cubans on the island – that they are prohibited from traveling abroad and visiting their families.
  • If the U.S. refuses to provide tourist visas to Cubans, the Castro regime will have one more issue to blame the U.S. and to use in its anti-American propaganda.
  • It will put pressure on the U.S. to allow American tourists to visit Cuba, since Cuba is allowing its citizens to visit the U.S.



What Can the U.S. Do?


  • Pre-empt any Cuban move by announcing that the U.S. will only provide a limited number of tourist visas.
  • Modify or eliminate the Cuban Adjustment Act.
  • Tighten travel by Cuban-Americans to the island.
  • Reduce the number of USINT personnel in Havana and reduce the Cuban personnel at the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C.


** Salim Lamrani, “Cuba procederá a reforma migratoria profunda en próximos meses.”, April 13, 2012.



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