Cuba pours cold water on eased travel restrictions

By PAUL HAVEN | December 23, 2011 | 9:05 PM EST

Cuba's President Raul Castro arrives for a parliamentary meeting in Havana, Cuba, Friday Dec. 23, 2011. Cuba's parliament is meeting in one of its twice-yearly, private sessions to get an update from Raul Castro on the island's economic situation, and possibly pass new laws. The assembly is gathering behind closed doors for what is expected to be a one-day plenary session. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Prensa Latina)

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday put on ice much-anticipated plans to ease travel restrictions on his countrymen, telling lawmakers the nation would not be pressured into moving too fast and citing continued aggression from the United States as the reason for his cautious approach.

Cuba had been awash in speculation that much-hated travel regulations that prevent most Cubans from leaving the island might be lifted during Friday's session of the National Assembly. But Castro said the time still wasn't right, despite a year of free-market reforms that has seen the Communist government legalize a real estate market and greatly increase private business ownership.

"Some have been pressuring us to take the step ... as if we were talking about something insignificant, and not the destiny of the revolution," Castro said, adding that those calling for an end to the travel restrictions "are forgetting the exceptional circumstances under which Cuba lives, encircled by the hostile policy ... of the U.S. government."

Castro said he still hopes to enact the changes, but did not say when. If hopes were high among ordinary Cubans, the Cuban leader has only himself to blame.

At parliament's last session, in August, he told legislators that the government was committed to easing travel restrictions. He said the measures, in place since the 1960s, were originally adopted because many of those who left in the years after the 1959 revolution were a threat to Fidel Castro's nascent government, including people backed by the United States who sought to bring the revolution down.

Castro said in August that most of those who leave now do so for economic reasons and are not enemies. He said removing travel restrictions would help "increase the nation's ties to the community of emigrants, whose makeup has changed radically since the early decades of the revolution."