By Soledad Alvarez
HAVANA – Spain has issued a total of 66,000 passports to Cubans who qualify under its so-called “grandchildren’s law” and more than 180,000 people on the island could eventually gain citizenship once all the applications have been processed, sources at the Iberian nation’s consulate in Havana told Efe.
Dec. 27 is the deadline for children and grandchildren of Spanish immigrants to opt for Spanish citizenship under the Law of Historical Memory, a measure aimed at descendants of people driven out of Spain during the 1936-1939 civil war and subsequent repression of the Franco regime.
The law, which took effect on Dec. 29, 2008, has prompted a steady flow of applications in Cuba and long lines day after day outside the Spanish consulate in Havana.
Spanish consular officials have issued 66,000 passports to date but they will continue reviewing the remaining applications, which totaled 110,000 by early December and could rise by another 15,000 before the deadline.
Considering that only around 4 percent of applications are denied, the law could lead to between 180,000 and 190,000 new Spanish citizens in Cuba, or close to 1.7 percent of the island’s population, once the process is completed, Spain’s consul-general in Havana, Tomas Rodriguez-Pantoja, says.
Those figures do not take into account the law’s “multiplying effect,” in that those new Spanish nationals also will be able to request citizenship for their minor children.
Many Cubans have sought to capitalize on the three-year window for gaining Spanish citizenship, seeing the new passport as a golden opportunity to travel abroad freely or simply emigrate.
Cuba is one of a handful of countries that require citizens to apply for an exit visa to travel internationally.
Spanish citizenship does not grant Cubans any additional rights on the island because Cuba does not recognize dual nationality, Rodriguez said, adding that Cubans who wish to leave the country and return must do so with their Cuban passport and the travel permits the island’s authorities require.
As the deadline approaches, many Cubans can be seen waiting patiently in long lines outside the consulate to present proof of their ancestors’ roots and apply for the Spanish passport.
“I went for this because I want to go to Spain, visit some friends I have there, see new places and work if I can,” Felix, a 43-year-old Havana resident, told Efe.
He said his grandfather was born in the Canary Islands and that he stays in touch with relatives there.
“A cousin of mine already completed all the paperwork and traveled not long ago. I’m planning on going as soon as I can, once I have my life squared away in Cuba. I have a young son who also could qualify for this,” Felix said.
Liuba, 35, said she plans to settle permanently in Spain – where her mother already lives – with her husband and their 6-year-old daughter and is ready to work “in whatever.”
The Law of Historical Memory has given rise to some controversial cases, including those of descendants of Spanish women who under Spain’s 1954 civil code lost their citizenship upon marrying a foreigner.
That regulation is now impeding the grandchildren of those emigrants – though not political exiles – from receiving a passport, prompting at least one applicant, Jorge Felix Medina, whose grandmother was originally from the Canary Islands to unsuccessfully appeal his case to the office of Spain’s prime minister and other authorities.
Throughout the process, the consulate has had to contend with attempted fraud, including document forging and “the buying and selling” of appointments to submit the citizenship applications. EFE