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Cuba announces travel restrictions to remain

Cuba’s President Raul Castro has told lawmakers that the country would not be pushed into moving too quickly to ease travel bans on Cubans, blaming continued hostility from the US for his vigilant approach. Cuba has been teeming with speculations that the much-disliked regulations, which hinder most Cubans from ever leaving the island, may be lifted at this Friday’s National Assembly session.

However, Castro said that the moment was still not right, in spite of 12 months of liberalised market reforms which have seen the communist nation greatly increasing private business ownership and legalising the real estate market.

Castro said that certain forces had been pressuring the island nation to take the step, as if the matters were insignificant and not the communist economy’s fate, adding that those demanding an end to travel restrictions were ignoring the special circumstances Cuba is dealing with–a “hostile policy” from the U.S. government.

Castro openly criticised U.S. leader Barack Obama, arguing that he was already the 11th American president since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, and appeared to dismiss the sacrifices Cuban people had made for its struggle for sovereignty, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the U.S.’s 49-year-old trade and travel sanctions.

Castro said that Obama sometimes gave the impression that he was completely unaware of the realities, before saying that he was willing to normalize relations under the proper conditions. Castro also declared amnesty for 2,900 prisoners, which occurs ahead of an upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI. However, a senior Cuban official said that Alan Gross, an imprisoned American subcontractor, would not be included in the list.

The Cuban leader told lawmakers he still wished to pass the travel changes, but did not clarify when. During the August parliament session, Castro announced Cuba’s commitment to ease travel restrictions, saying that the measures were originally passed because many people who left during the post-revolution years were a political threat to the fledgling government, including those backed by the USA and sought the overthrow of communism.

Castro stated in August that most Cubans who leave now will do so for economic motivations and are not the state’s enemies. He explained that removing travel restrictions could help strengthen the country’s relations with the community of emigrants, whose demographic makeup has altered radically since the early years of the revolution.

Cubans had been demanding for the removal of the exit visa know as the “tarjeta blanca”, which Cuba requires from all seeking international travel, even for holidays. Many citizens are denied, especially scientists, doctors and military officials, since their departure could be seen as a peril to the state.

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