HAVANA — After controlling its citizens' comings and goings for five decades, Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to end many travel restrictions, with one senior official saying a "radical and profound" change is weeks away.
That comment, by Parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon, has residents, exiles and policymakers abuzz with speculation that the much-hated exit visa could be a thing of the past, even if Raul Castro's government still carefully limits the travel of doctors, scientists, military personnel and others in sensitive roles.
But other top Cuban officials have cautioned against over-excitement.
Rumors of the exit visa's imminent demise have circulated on and off for years. The whispers became open chatter last spring after the Communist Party endorsed migration reform, only for Castro to dash those hopes in December, saying the timing wasn't right.
Alarcon's comments in an interview published in April then revived hopes nonetheless that a bold move is coming.
"One of the questions that we are currently discussing at the highest level of the government is the question of emigration," he told French journalist Salim Lamrani. "We are working toward a radical and profound reform of emigration that in the months to come will eliminate this kind of restriction."
But Saturday, Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez told exiles not to set their hopes too high, vowing the government would always maintain some travel controls as it faced a threat from enemies in Washington.