Cubans celebrate chance to see US relatives more often

March 14th, 2009 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

By Silvia Ayuso
Havana, March 14 (DPA) Elena cried for joy when she found out that the US Congress made a decision that could allow her to see her Miami-based brother again soon.

“Cubans are separated from each other for economic problems more than anything else, and some are there and some are here. But we are a big family that is separated basically by the sea,” this Havana clerk said Wednesday.

The US Congress eased restrictions on travel to Cuba as part of a $410-billion spending bill that cleared the final vote by the Senate late Tuesday night. The bill, which sets spending until the end of the year, cuts off all funding for enforcing travel restrictions imposed under former president George W. Bush in 2004.

The change will allow Cuban-American families to visit relatives on the Caribbean island once a year and remain as long as they wish. The 2004 restrictions limited visits to once every three years, for no more than two weeks, and excluded extended family, such as aunts, uncles and cousins.

The US Senate decision also increased from $50 to $179 the money Cuban-Americans are allowed to spend on the island per day during their stay.

Cuban state media did not immediately convey the news, but it advanced by word of mouth through the day, and Cubans were relieved and happy about the chance to see their relatives more often.

“I have not heard it around here, but I got the news yesterday by e-mail,” said Carmen, whose eldest son left for the US last year. She had resigned herself to not being able to see him again till at least 2011, and the change is most welcome.

“At least to see my son once a year here, given that I cannot get out,” she said with her voice broken by emotion.

Many people expressed their joy over family reunions, which usually also imply a transfer of cash from relatively-wealthier Cubans in the US to their families on the island.

“Everybody here has been waiting for that, and it’s enough of this beating each other up and having problems. There are many divided families and many people who are having a bad time, and there is little logic or sense to this,” Alina, 45, said of the restrictions.

Her father died in the US, and she could not get there because of the restrictions, she says.

“It’s something good because that way they can come over every year and even help more financially. It is important for us to get help from there because the country’s economy is not doing very well and generally the Cuban people do not have enough money to lead a normal, decent life,” said Ransy, a young man in the Havana neighbourhood of Vedado who has relatives in the US.

Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who has repeatedly advocated the end of the US embargo on Cuba, celebrated the news Wednesday.

“It is very positive for Cubans to have the chance to travel to Cuba every year, to spend more, to help their families, to give that help a wider spectrum, not just for first-degree relatives,” he told DPA.

Espinosa Chepe noted that the government of Cuban President Raul Castro should now give some signs of goodwill of its own.

“I think he has to reciprocate and take some measures,” the dissident said.

“I long for a lot more than what was approved (by the US Senate), but as the Chinese proverb says, the longest journey starts with the first step,” he noted.

On the street, people agreed.

“Since (Barack) Obama is president, people have expected many openings, there has been a lot of speculation and everyone is in favour of the changes,” Elena noted.

“We have great hope in Obama, of course. It’s something different, and anyone who sees something different is hopeful about it. Even if nothing happens, you always have hope,” agreed the mechanic Enrique, 30.

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