This editorial first appeared in London’s The Telegraph:
It has taken half a century but Cuba has finally bowed to the inevitable and announced the lifting of foreign travel restrictions on its citizens. From next January they will no longer require exit permits to go overseas, leaving North Korea as the only communist state left that continues to immure its own people. The move — announced on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis — is the most significant act of liberalization yet from Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as Cuba’s president four years ago.
His cautious program of economic modernization, which has already seen modest moves toward private ownership and some market reforms, was ratified by last year’s party congress, the first for 13 years. There is no doubting Castro’s reforming instincts but the speed of change is woefully slow. Cuba remains an impoverished country — the average monthly salary is $20 — where corruption and cronyism are rampant. But the lifting of travel restrictions may mark a step change in the process. Freedom of movement will inevitably sharpen Cubans’ appetite for greater economic freedoms — or even more dramatic developments. After all, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall that triggered the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.
This latest move will be watched with keen interest by the United States, which will be the destination for most Cubans who decide to use their new-found freedom of movement. Since 1966 Washington has granted Cubans automatic residence if they can reach the United States — as many thousands have, usually in makeshift vessels. Castro has dropped his brother’s anti-American posturing, recently declaring that good relations between the two countries would be “mutually advantageous”. He seems to be backing his words with actions.