Cubans line up to apply for Spanish citizenship

HAVANA Mon Dec 29, 2008 5:14pm EST

1 of 3. People line up outside the Spanish Embassy in Havana December 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique De La Osa

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Cubans lined up outside the Spanish Embassy in Havana on Monday on the first day Spain began taking applications for Spanish citizenship under the country's "historic memory" law.

The law makes grandchildren of Spanish immigrants eligible for citizenship, which officials estimate could result in as many as 200,000 Cubans seeking a Spanish passport.

Spain has said 1 million people around the world could qualify to become Spaniards.

There are special provisions for descendants of exiles who had to leave the country and renounce their citizenship due to the Spanish civil war.

A Spanish passport is prized by many Cubans who view it as a way to get off the island, from which at least a million people have left since Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and installed a communist government.

Spanish citizenship would eliminate some obstacles now in place for Cubans to travel but not the need to get permission from the Cuban government.

Some outside the embassy on Monday said they had camped out over the weekend so they could be at the front of the line. They gave different reasons for seeking to become Spaniards.

"I want to travel to Spain and see how it goes for me there," said Oralia Quevedo, 68. "You can't lose anything trying."

"I'm doing it for my 6-year-old son so that when he's older he can travel," said housewife Sylvia, 36, who did not give her full name.

(Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)

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