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Cuba Backtracks on Restriction-Free Travel for Citizens

This is an historic time for Cuba.

In recent years the “old” guard has slowly fallen away, as Cuba has begun to take tentative steps onto the international arena.

With the days of the Cuban missile crisis long gone, and Fidel’s inward-looking policies wiped from history, Raul Castro has introduced a progressive government keen to loosen control on citizens and benefit from international trade and tourism.

So far, the policy seems to have been working well. Tensions with the US have thawed, trade embargoes have been lifted, and life in Cuba is looking ever better for residents. Free enterprise is flourishing, with many Cubans benefitting from the establishment of their own small businesses.

Travel, too, has seen some considerable changes. In the past, native Cubans struggled to leave the island, even temporarily. Visitors from other countries – particularly the United States – were largely prevented from visiting. Many Cubans encountered on US soil got there without the Cuban government’s permission.

However this is all changing. Cuba is benefitting from a resurgence in tourism. Ever more Americans are discovering the wonders that Cuba has to offer. And Cubans themselves are now freer than ever before to travel themselves.

Unless, that is, you’re a doctor.

At present, it has been suggested that almost 10% of the working Cuban population are involved in healthcare in some way. This has become so because of the societal changes introduced by Castro, which facilitates free universal healthcare for residents. This has led to a huge recruitment drive for individuals to train as doctors, nurses and support workers.

However the problem seems to be that doctors in Cuba are terribly underpaid by global standards, with many highly-qualified individuals earning less than $100 a month. Relocating to another country, many medical professionals could earn many times that in a single day.

According to the Cuban government, migration from Cuba is now the highest that it has been in two decades, with vast numbers of doctors leaving Cuba to work in better-paid positions overseas, especially the USA. Worse, the USA has a long-held policy of automatically granting legal residency to Cubans on arrival, with fast-track policies for medical staff.

This makes leaving Cuba for the US ever simpler and more profitable for native Cubans. However it’s also leading to a worrying level of “brain drain”.

In an attempt to stem this tide of talent leaving Cuba’s shores, the government have decided to restrict the movement of medical personnel without prior approval. As of now, doctors will need to seek authorization from the Health Ministry before being granted permission to leave the country.

Understandably, doctors in Cuba are up in arms about the u-turn in policy. Significantly underpaid and under-staffed, the medical situation in Cuba is considered to be serious, with many hospitals missing essential specialists. However restricting the movements of already-unhappy medical staff could just make the matter worse, with the potential for wide-spread demonstrations, or medical staff slipping away secretly to the USA.

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