The Miami Herald
Thu, Mar. 20, 2008

Cuban leaders reach out to countrymen living abroad


Communist officials, seeking support from émigrés against U.S. policies, indicated Wednesday they may study eliminating government approvals now required for all Cuban citizens leaving or returning to the island.

''I don't want to get ahead of myself, but these issues have always been under consideration,'' Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque told reporters.

New President Raúl Castro promised to lift an ''excess of prohibitions and regulations'' when he assumed office last month.


Although there was no indication he was referring to travel permits, there has been widespread speculation that his new government would do away with them.

Cuba is among only a few countries in the world that require its people to obtain government approval to leave the country, either permanently or on visits to other nations.

It also requires government approval for Cuban-born people to return permanently or on visits after living abroad.

More than 100 Cubans living in nearly 30 countries traveled to Havana for the event, which wraps up Friday with a resolution of support for Cuba's ''Five Patriotic Heroes'' -- five Cuban agents now serving long sentences in the United States on espionage charges. Havana has waged a high-profile propaganda campaign for their release.

The session also was meant to build support among Cubans abroad against the U.S. embargo of Cuba, known here as ``the blockade.''


Organizers did not say how many émigrés came from each country, but there were some from the United States, including Max Lesnik, a Cuban revolutionary-turned-South Florida radio commentator who says he hates both communism and U.S. sanctions against the island.

Most participants who live in the United States declined to give their names, saying they feared being sanctioned by the American government under travel restrictions against Cuba.

The Cuban government says that between 1.3 million and 1.5 million Cuban citizens and their children live abroad and about 193,000 of those returned to the island on visits last year, Pérez Roque said.