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May 28, 2017

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Cuba reform lures enterprising emigres

HAVANA, Cuba--Elias and Danessa emigrated from Cuba more than a decade ago. Now they are back, sniffing out prospects for starting up businesses — a novelty made possible by a reform introduced a year ago.

"I want to set up a small scuba diving business. I don't aspire to be rich. I just want enough to live on," said Elias, 51, who currently lives in Ecuador.

Danessa, 30 and a resident of Spain, wants to set up a movie production company. The country already has many that are technically illegal but tolerated. Legislation is in the works to authorize them outright.

"The idea is modest — to bring in some equipment and provide services to Cuban directors and foreigners that come to the island," she said to AFP.

Migration reform implemented by President Raul Castro in January 2013 eliminated costly and hard-to-get visas that were needed to leave Cuba. But it also made it easier for Cuban emigres to visit home and even return for good.

It even allows people to live "on two shores" — in Cuba and then in the United States or another country. The new law lets Cubans live abroad up to two years without losing the right to reside in Cuba.

This is a big change from decades ago, when Cubans who emigrated did so for good.

'Capitalize on migration'

One of the goals of the reform is to "capitalize on migration, depending on the needs of the country," said Antonio Aja, director of the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana.

That means having emigres spend time in Cuba, work for Cuba and invest in Cuba — basically making them part of the island nation, said Aja, one of Cuba's top experts in migration.

"Cuba must take them into consideration," he said.

Without ignoring the fact that the United States is at the same time Cuba's main political adversary and its main recipient of emigres, Aja said Cuba has to encourage all emigres in a position to do so to "take part" in the project of nation-building.

He said the reform has been very positive from a political, legal and demographic point of view.

With the reform, Cuba is moving toward a policy that "responds to the needs of human beings, the people of Cuba, and the interests of the country," Aja said.

'My culture is here'

Danessa believes she will fulfill her dream of living and working six months a year in Cuba and the rest in Spain. Despite all the time she has spent abroad, her ties to the island are still strong.

"My parents, many friends, my Havana, my culture are all here," she said.

In the first 10 months of the reform, 257,518 trips abroad by Cubans were recorded, according to government figures. These were made by 184,787 people, meaning some left more than once.

Of them 66,510 went to the United States, and 40 percent came back.

"It is clear that (many Cubans) are assessing the future," Aja said.

"We have to start getting used to the fact that Cuba is a country of migration and that means some people are going to leave and some are going to stay; they are going to take advantage of the reform," Aja said.

Emigrants will see "how Cuba's economy progresses, how Cuban society evolves, how those factors that made them leave and settle in another country are mitigated, and also how the world evolves," he said.

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