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After decades of tough traveling restrictions, Cubans now need only a passport to visit other countries. (Stefan Ernst / Getty Images)

Cubans Take Flight

People who live in Cuba gain more freedom to travel abroad under new government rules

By Tyrus Cukavac | January 24 , 2013
<p>PHOTO: For the first time in years, many Cubans will have the chance to see family members living abroad. (Ramon Espinosa / AP Images)</p><p> MAP: Cuba lies roughly 100 miles from the southern coast of Florida. (Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: For the first time in years, many Cubans will have the chance to see family members living abroad. (Ramon Espinosa / AP Images)

MAP: Cuba lies roughly 100 miles from the southern coast of Florida. (Jim McMahon)

Citizens of the tiny island nation of Cuba are packing their bags and preparing to see the world. After years of heavy travel restrictions, the Cuban government has revised, or changed, its rules for international travel.

In the past, if they wanted to leave Cuba, citizens had to have both an exit permit and a letter of invitation from a person in another country. Now would-be travelers need only a passport to travel. They are also allowed to be away from Cuba for up to two years.

Many Cubans have family members who live abroad in South America or the United States. Some have not seen relatives living outside Cuba for many years.

“I haven’t seen my father since 1994,” Mileidy Ramayo, a Cuban woman, told CNN. Her father left the island on a raft. “It would change my life to be able to see him and give him a hug.”

A CLOSED COUNTRY

Cuba lies roughly 100 miles off the southern coast of Florida. Although Cuba is a close neighbor to the United States, it has been almost impossible for citizens of the two nations to travel legally between the countries.

Since 1959, the island nation has been under the control of the dictator Fidel Castro and his Communist followers. A dictator is a leader who rules with absolute authority. Castro and his supporters toppled the previous government in a violent revolution.

Living conditions in Cuba can be harsh. Widespread poverty and limited political freedoms caused many people to try to leave. So the government passed strict travel laws that made it difficult for Cubans to visit other countries.

Some people (like Ramayo’s father) attempted to reach the United States aboard dangerous rafts rather than attempt to leave the country legally.

A NEW DIRECTION?

The new policy may help to end Cuba’s isolation from the rest of the world. The old policy and a bad relationship with the United States have made it difficult for Cuba to build strong connections with other nations.

The United States is also taking baby steps to heal its relations with Cuba. In the past, Americans were not allowed to travel to Cuba. Additionally, it is illegal for American companies to do business with the country. However, President Barack Obama helped pass legislation that allows U.S. citizens to visit family members in Cuba, as well as to send them money.

Many Cubans are hopeful their government’s new policy will open the door to more freedom. Marta Rodríguez, a Cuban citizen, tells The New York Times, “We have lived for decades in captivity. It’s a positive move—one [Cuba] should have taken 50 years ago.”

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