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Cuba eases travel restriction for citizens

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
Cuban president Raul Castro has pledged to ease the country's travel restrictions.
Cuban president Raul Castro has pledged to ease the country's travel restrictions.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Cuban government is ditching two travel requirements
  • Getting rid of these documents will save travelers money
  • A traveler will need a passport, but not everyone can have one
  • President Raul Castro has pledged to do away with unnecessary restrictions

(CNN) -- Starting next year, Cubans traveling abroad will face fewer hurdles leaving the country.

The official news site Granma reported Tuesday that the Cuban government will no longer require a travel permit and a letter of invitation.

Until now, Cubans had to pay $150 for an exit visa. A resident in the country that the Cuban wanted to visit would also have to write a letter of invitation.

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Fees associated with the letter ran as high as $200. That's a steep price in a country where the average official monthly income is about $20.

Even with the two documents, a traveler could run up against a wall if the government denied an exit visa -- as it has done with many dissidents. Medical professionals are only allowed to leave Cuba to work for the government abroad.

But once the new requirements go into effect on January 14, travelers will only have to present a valid passport and an entry visa for the country where they are headed.

The move is part of the reforms that President Raul Castro promised when he took office in 2008.

Read more: Cuban Missile Crisis ground zero, 50 years on

At the time, he pledged to do away with unnecessary restrictions. And that year, he lifted prohibitions on Cubans staying in hotels and buying mobile phones.

The new change, however, does not mean that anyone wanting to travel will get a passport.

"The ordinary passport will be issued to the Cuban citizens who meet the requirements of the Migration Law," which is being modified, according to the report in Granma.

While the report does not say how the law will be altered, it does add that the government will fight brain -- and money -- drain "from the aggressive and subversive plans of the US government and its allies." It will do so by leaving in place measures to preserve "human capital created by the Revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations."

Read more: Should U.S. raise a fist or offer a hand to Cuba?

CNNE's Nelson Quinones contributed to this report.

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