With new travel policy, Cuba faces effects of globalization

Cuba eases travel restrictions on its citizens, another step toward opening its economy to the rest of the world.

For 51 years, Cuba has implemented travel restrictions that made it difficult for Cuban nationals to enter and leave the island nation.

The idea behind them was born from the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power: given the instability at that time, it was considered necessary to ensure that the fledgling regime had the human capital it needed to survive.

Decades later, globalization means much more than the movement of people and it's becoming increasingly hard for the small Caribbean country to avoid participating in the global economy. What was once a sound (though civil liberties-infringing) idea turned into a restriction stunting the country's own growth. (Though it was hardly alone in doing so.)

Cuban president Raul Castro will lift the travel restrictions in January in a bid to smooth a laborious and fractured process, doing away with many of the conditions necessary for a Cuban to leave his or her own country.

The next question: what will Cubans do next?

For a half-decade, Cuba artificially insulated itself from the ill effects of globalization by closing down its economy to the world. As monetary borders break down and economic tides shift -- that is, after all, why U.S. manufacturing has fallen on hard times; it's all gone to China and other developing nations who offer more competitive rates for labor -- one can only wonder how it will affect Cuba.

Not that Cuba's borders are now wide open. Reuters reports:

Granma said restrictions would still be in place for some people, likely to include doctors and other professionals who Cuba does not want to leave.

Cuba has long called such brain drain "theft" by the world's industrialized nations; it's obviously not that simple. Cuba's new challenge: find ways to be economically competitive so that leverage comes from market conditions, not border control.

Photo: Edmondo Gnerre/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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