Under those 1994 accords between the two countries, Washington has encouraged Havana to take steps to prevent any future mass exodus.
Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Washington-based Cuba Study Group, said he is cautiously optimistic that the move will reduce the isolation of the Cuban people and increase interaction between the U.S. and Cuban civil society.
‘‘The important story is the Cuban government has taken a step that has long been demanded by the Cuban people,’’ he said.
Omar Lopez, human rights director of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, welcomed the elimination of the exit visas, but said it remained unclear whether the change will allow more Cubans to get passports.
‘‘Now, Cubans don’t have to pay and get a permit from Cuba to go as a tourist or a visitor, but they say that in order to get a passport you have to comply with some requirements of the law,’’ Lopez said.
Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez expressed concern that officials might now control travel merely by denying passports.
Cuba has on occasion denied exit visas to government detractors when they sought to travel abroad, and Sanchez she has been turned down 20 times over the last five years.
‘‘I have the suitcase ready to travel. ... Let’s see if I get a flight for Jan. 14, 2013, to try out the new law.
The move eliminates a restriction in place since 1961, the height of the Cold War, requiring Cubans to get approval from their government for permission to leave their own country.
Cubans now will also not have to present the long-required letter of invitation from a foreign institution or person in the country they plan to visit.
The measure also extends to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can remain abroad, and they can request an extension when that runs out. Currently, Cubans lose residency and other rights including social security and free health care and education after 11 months.
Granma’s editorial said the measure will help address the needs of the Cuban diaspora.
More than 1 million people of Cuban origin live in the United States, and thousands more are in Europe.
Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.
Peter Orsi is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi
Andrea Rodriguez is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP