Tag Archives: Freedom of Movement

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2017 REPORT on CUBA

Original Article: Human Rights Watch 2017 on Cuba:

Summary:

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and punish public criticism. It now relies less than in past years on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public shaming, and termination of employment.

On November 25, Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba from 1959 until handing off the presidency to his brother, Raúl, in 2006, died in Havana.

In March, US President Barack Obama visited Cuba, where he met with President Raúl Castro, as well as with representatives of Cuban civil society. President Obama gave a nationally televised address and held a joint press conference with President Castro in which he urged the Cuban government to lift restrictions on political freedoms and reiterated his call for the US Congress to end the economic embargo of the island.

Arbitrary Detention and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent activists, political opponents, and others. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that lacks official authorization and is therefore considered illegal by the government, received more than 7,900 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2016. This represents the highest monthly average of detentions in the past six years.

Security officers rarely present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of “delinquent” behavior.

Detention is often used preemptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days. The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners also, like the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, lacks official authorization and is therefore considered illegal by the government. Its members are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained by either police or state security agents before or after they attend Sunday mass.

Prior to President Obama’s visit in March, police arrested more than 300 dissidents as part of a crackdown on opposition leaders.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information.  A small number of journalists and bloggers who are independent of government media manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. However, the government routinely blocks access within Cuba to these websites. Moreover, only a fraction of Cubans can read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the internet. Independent journalists who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger and videographer who often covers the Sunday demonstrations of the Ladies in White, was jailed for five days after trying to cover a protest on March 20, the day of President Obama’s arrival in Cuba. Police officers apprehended Valle Roca, beat him, and took him to a nearby police station, according to Aliuska Gómez García, a member of the Ladies in White who witnessed the beating and arrest and spoke afterwards to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Valle Roca was later accused of attacking an official. While he did not face charges on this occasion, officers warned him that he might if arrested in the future.

In May, police detained journalist Daniel Domínguez López in his office at the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Speech and Press (ICLEP) after he wrote an article about a deprivation-of-property case involving a member of the National Revolutionary Police Force. Police ultimately took him to a “criminal instruction unit,” where he said that they threatened to imprison or kill him and his family. Officers reportedly warned him against further distribution of his bulletin and told him that they were determined to destroy ICLEP.

Police in October detained Maykel González Vivero, a reporter of the news site Diario de Cuba, while he was reporting on the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. Three days later, police arrested Elaine Díaz, director of the independent news site Periodismo del Barrio and four of her colleagues when they traveled to Baracoa, eastern Cuba, to report on the storm’s effects. She and her team were released a few hours later, as was González, but authorities reportedly confiscated their laptop computers, cameras, and other equipment.

The government harasses artists as well. Police detained Danilo Maldonado, a graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” during a march led by the Ladies in White movement shortly before President Obama’s visit in March 2016, but released him the following day. The day after Fidel Castro’s death in November, police arrested Maldonado again after he posted an online video mocking Castro’s death and spray painting “se fue” (he’s gone) on a wall in downtown Havana. Police held him incommunicado for 72 hours, inflicting a beating that triggered an asthma attack. After his mother brought an inhaler, his detention continued. He was still detained at time of writing in early December. Two years earlier, Maldonado had been charged with “contempt for authority” for attempting to stage a satirical performance with two pigs daubed with “Raul” and “Fidel.” He served 10 months in prison.

Political Prisoners

Despite the release of the 53 political prisoners in conjunction with the agreement to normalize relations with the US, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons, according to local human rights groups. The government denies access to its prisons by independent human rights groups, which believe that additional political prisoners, whose cases they cannot document, remain locked up.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinated to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Travel Restrictions

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminated the need for an exit visa to leave the island. Exit visas had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government—and to their families. Since then, many people who had previously been denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reforms gave the government broad discretionary powers to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest.” Such measures have allowed authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217, which is designed to limit migration to Havana. The decree has been used to harass dissidents and prevent those from elsewhere in Cuba from traveling to Havana to attend meetings.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress for abuses. Those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are often subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denied medical care.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Labor Rights

Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

In September, police raided Cubalex, a six-year-old organization that investigates human rights violations and provides free legal services to free-expression activists, migrants, and human-rights defenders. Officers confiscated files, strip-searched four men and a woman, and arrested two attorneys, one of whom was still in detention at time of writing.

Key International Actors

In December 2014, President Obama announced that the United States would ease decades-old restrictions on travel and commerce, and normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. In return, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners and committed to allowing visits by international human rights monitors. The two governments restored diplomatic relations in July 2015, but at time of writing, no international human rights monitors had visited Cuba.

In January 2015, President Obama called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on the island that had been imposed more than four decades earlier. In October 2016, he used executive orders to end a few trade restrictions, including the longstanding $100 import limit on two of Cuba’s signature products: cigars and rum.

In September 2016, the European Union approved an agreement with Cuba that would strengthen economic and political ties and bring an end to the EU’s 1996 “Common Position on Cuba,” which conditions full European Union economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. In October, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution—for the 25th consecutive year—calling on the US to end the embargo. Only the US and Israel did not vote in favor, but for the first time, they abstained instead of voting against.

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council from 2006 to 2012 and from 2014 to the present, Cuba has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights abuses around the world—opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. However, Cuba supported a resolution adopted by the council in June 2016, establishing the post of an independent expert to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In October, Cuba was re-elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2017-2019 term.

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, 2016 WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA

Original Report:  World Report 2016,  Cuba

zzzzzzzzzzCuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group after their weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, on September 13, 2015.  Human Rights Watch, World Report: Cuba  2016

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would ease restrictions on travel and commerce and normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. In exchange, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners and committed to allow visits by international human rights monitors. The two governments restored diplomatic relations in July 2015.

Arbitrary Detention and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detentions to harass and intimidate people who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that the government views as illegal, received more than 6,200 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through October 2015. While this represented a decrease from the number of detentions during the same 10-month period in 2014, it was still significantly higher than the number of yearly detentions prior to 2012.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior.  Detention is often used preemptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days. Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained before or after they attend Sunday mass.

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger and videographer who often covers the Sunday demonstrations of the Ladies in White, wrote that police arbitrarily detained him on June 7 and drove him 30 miles from Havana, where they took him from the car at gunpoint, made him kneel on the grass, and put the gun to his neck, telling him he was “on notice” to stay away from the demonstrations.

The artist Tania Bruguera was arrested on December 30, 2014, hours before her planned performance art piece in Havana’s Revolution Square, in which she was to have invited passersby to walk up to a podium and express themselves at a microphone for one minute. Security officials confiscated her passport and computer. Bruguera was released the following day but was detained and released twice more during the next two days. Cuban dissidents and independent journalists who had planned to attend the event—including Reinaldo Escobar, Eliecer Avila, and Antonio Rodiles—were also arrested on December 30. Bruguera was again detained in May during the 12th Havana Biennial Art Exhibition. She was released the same day.

On August 9, a few days before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to attend a ceremony to mark the opening of the US embassy in Havana, 90 people—including an estimated 50 Ladies in White—were arrested and detained after Sunday mass in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar during a peaceful march against political repression.

During the visit of Pope Francis in September, police detained some 100 to 150 dissidents to prevent them from seeing him. Miriam Leiva, a freelance journalist and blogger and a founder of the Ladies in White, was invited by the Papal Nuncio in Havana to greet the Pope twice, on September 19 and 20, but was detained for several hours each time, preventing her attendance.

Political Prisoners

Despite the release of the 53 political prisoners in conjunction with the agreement to normalize relations with the US, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons, according to local human rights groups. The government prevents independent human rights groups from accessing its prisons, and the groups believe there are additional political prisoners whose cases they cannot document.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinated to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” was arrested in December 2014 and charged with “contempt for authority” for attempting to stage a performance involving two pigs painted with the names “Raul” and “Fidel”—a satire of the current and former heads of state. He was released on October 20.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression.

A small number of journalists and bloggers who are independent of government media manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. However, the government routinely blocks access within Cuba to these websites, and those who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.  Only a fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. In July, Cuba increased Internet access by opening 35 Wi-Fi hot spots in parks and city boulevards nationwide. The US$2-an-hour Wi-Fi connection fee is expensive in a country where the average wage is approximately $20 a month.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminated the need for an exit visa to leave the island. Exit visas had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government—and to their families. Since then, many people who had previously been denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reforms gave the government broad discretionary powers to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest.” Such measures have allowed the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), was denied the right to travel abroad in August for “reasons of public interest,” authorities said.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217, which is designed to limit migration to Havana. The decree has been used to prevent dissidents from traveling to Havana to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live there.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.  While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Labor Rights

Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages and wage payment, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Key International Actors

In January, a month after announcing plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo of Cuba imposed more than four decades ago. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called on the United States to end the embargo, most recently in October by a vote of 191 to two.

At time of writing, Cuba had yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by UN human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the US.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position on Cuba,” adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. After a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, EU and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. A fifth round of negotiations towards an EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement took place in Havana in September 2015, and a sixth round was scheduled for late November.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a regional position on the UN Human Rights Council, despite its poor human rights record and consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a member of the council, Cuba has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights abuses around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. However, Cuba supported a landmark resolution the council adopted in September 2014 to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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EL DERECHO A VIAJAR A CUBA

Arturo López Levy

Cuando los funcionarios electos establecen diferentes normas para sí mientras limitan los derechos constitucionales del resto de los estadounidenses, la credibilidad del sistema político sufre y el capital de las instituciones democráticas se erosiona.

El caso del viaje a China de los asistentes del senador Marco Rubio y la congresista Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, patrocinado por el Estado-partido comunista, es un ejemplo doloroso. Durante décadas, los legisladores cubanoamericanos se han opuesto a los viajes a Cuba y amonestado ferozmente a cualquier colega o sus asistentes que lo ha hecho buscando información o para dialogar con el gobierno. Rubio y Ros-Lehtinen han hecho del tema de no viajar a países comunistas una prueba de integridad política y de fidelidad a los derechos humanos. Rubio ha dicho en el Senado que cada dólar que se gasta en un viaje a un país comunista financia directamente la represión. Cada dólar, excepto los gastados por sus asistentes en la Gran Muralla y Tiananmen mientras escuchaban los méritos del presidente Mao.

Cuando la hipocresía es expuesta, el liderazgo político es más necesario. Es el momento en que los líderes y la opinión pública deben tomar partido y dejar en claro cuáles son sus principios. La integridad marca la principal diferencia entre los que creen que los viajeros estadounidenses son –como Hillary Clinton lo expresa– “anuncios andantes” a favor de una sociedad abierta, en Cuba y en China; de quienes viajan a Pekín, mientras predican sus políticas anti-Castro restringiendo el derecho de los estadounidenses a viajar.

La Casa Blanca debería actuar con liderazgo. Cada vez que el senador Rubio y la congresista Ros-Lehtinen cuestionan ferozmente la moral de las decisiones de Obama para expandir los viajes pueblo-a-pueblo, la administración Obama reacciona tímidamente o no reacciona. Los funcionarios de Obama parecen olvidar el propio discurso del presidente sobre la importancia de comunicarse con la sociedad civil cubana y la actualización de una política concebida “desde antes que él naciera”.

Muchos cubanoamericanos que votaron dos veces por Obama están decepcionados porque el presidente da demasiado a los políticos pro-embargo y escucha muy poco a los que defienden sus promesas de diálogo y la comunicación con Cuba. Después de la reelección en 2012, ganando una mayoría cubanoamericana, la secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton aconsejó al presidente Obama: “echar otro vistazo al embargo. No está logrando sus objetivos, y frena nuestra agenda más amplia en América Latina”. ¿Por qué no lo hace?

Después de la reforma migratoria cubana bajo Raúl Castro, es más fácil para un cubano, que vive bajo un gobierno comunista, viajar a Estados Unidos que para un ciudadano estadounidense, que vive en democracia, viajar a Cuba. Esta es una grave contradicción que pone a los que abogan por una Cuba democrática, con buenas relaciones con Estados Unidos, en seria desventaja política. El presidente Obama hizo lo correcto en 2011 cuando autorizó las licencias para viajes religiosos, educativos, humanitarios y de algunos otros propósitos no turísticos para viajar a Cuba. Pero, ¿por qué no elimina los procedimientos burocráticos engorrosos para esos viajes regulados y adopta una licencia general para cualquier viaje con propósito no turístico?

La inacción de la administración Obama ante el actual proceso de reformas en Cuba divide aún más a Washington de otros países democráticos. Europa está negociando un acuerdo amplio de cooperación económica y diálogo político con Cuba. En Cartagena, Colombia, en el 2012 durante la Cumbre de las Américas, América Latina habló con voz clara: todos los países del hemisferio, excepto Canadá y Estados Unidos, reafirmaron su deseo de incorporar a Cuba en la próxima Cumbre prevista en Panamá en la primavera de 2015.

La ansiedad de los aliados de Estados Unidos en América Latina crece cada día que la Cumbre de las Américas de 2015 se acerca. Brasil y un importante número de estados latinoamericanos y caribeños han declarado su intención de boicotear la Cumbre de 2015, si no es invitada Cuba. La invitación a Cuba no se trata tanto de tener a Raúl Castro en la foto de los presidentes, sino transmitir una desaprobación general a la política de aislamiento contra la isla, ayudando a la Casa Blanca a removerla.

Washington debe eliminar las incoherencias flagrantes entre los valores que predica y las prácticas de sus políticos. Todos los estadounidenses deberían gozar de igualdad ante la ley en el ejercicio de su derecho constitucional a viajar. El senador Rubio y la congresista Ros-Lehtinen no deben pontificar contra los viajes a Cuba después de que sus empleados visitaron Pekín y la Gran Muralla de la mano del partido-estado chino. Sus electores cubanoamericanos están desmintiendo sus posturas al ritmo de casi 400,000 visitas a Cuba cada año. No es coherente con la forma de vida estadounidense que un grupo disfrute de un derecho que sus representantes niegan al resto de la población.

Este incidente desastroso podría dar un giro para bien si el presidente Obama defendiese la libertad de viajar como un derecho humano. Algunos dirán que la Casa Blanca no puede desafiar el Congreso mediante políticas que atentan contra la ley Helms Burton. Pero si Estados Unidos quiere que otros países se unan a los esfuerzos para promover los derechos humanos y la apertura política en la Isla, debe dar el ejemplo practicando la libertad que predica. La libertad de viaje como un derecho humano es fundamental tanto en la política de Estados Unidos hacia Cuba como hacia China.

Arturo-Lopez-Levy-11 Arturo López Levy,  Escuela Josef Korbel de Estudios Internacionales de la Universidad de Denver.

 

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, World Report 2014: CUBA

New Picture (10)

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment. Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 3,600 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through September 2013, compared to approximately 2,100 in 2010.

The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many dissidents are beaten and threatened when detained, even if they do not try to resist.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees receive official warnings, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.

Victims of such arrests may be held incommunicado for several hours to several days. Some are held at police stations, while others are driven to remote areas far from their homes where they are interrogated, threatened, and abandoned.

On August 25, 2013, more than 30 women from the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—were detained after attending Sunday mass at a church in Santiago, beaten, forced onto a bus, and left at various isolated locations on the city’s outskirts. The same day, eight members of the group in Havana and seven more in Holguín were arbitrarily detained as they marched peacefully to attend mass.

Political Prisoners

Cubans who criticize the government may face criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence. Political prisoners are routinely denied parole after completing the minimum required sentence as punishment for refusing to participate in ideological activities, such as “reeducation” classes.

The death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 after his 85-day hunger strike and the subsequent hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Fariñas pressured the government to release the remaining political prisoners from the “group of 75” (75 dissidents sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown). Yet most were forced to choose between ongoing prison sentences and forced exile. The overwhelming majority accepted relocation to Spain in exchange for their freedom.

Dozens of political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups, which estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.

Luis Enrique Labrador Diaz was one of four people detained in January 2011 for distributing leaflets in Havana with slogans such as “Down with the Castros” and was subsequently convicted in May 2011 for contempt and public disorder in a closed, summary trial. He was still in prison at time of writing.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a tiny fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of and limited access to the Internet. A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that it cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broad conditions that could be used to impede access to government critics.

A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

After jazz musician Roberto Carcasses called for direct elections and freedom of information in a nationally televised concert in Havana in September 2013, officials told him that his words benefitted “the enemy” and that he would be barred from performing in state-run venues. The government lifted the ban—widely reported in the international press—a week later. In May, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government-controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families. Nearly 183,000 people traveled abroad from January to September 2013, according to the government. These included human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers who previously had been denied permission to leave the island despite repeated requests, such as blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Nonetheless, the reform establishes that the government may restrict the right to travel on the vague grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” which could allow the authorities to deny people who express dissent the ability to leave Cuba. The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. More than 57,000 Cubans are in prisons or work camps, according to a May 2012 article in an official government newspaper. Prisoners who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April, it continued to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Key International Actors

The United States’ economic embargo of Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights. At the United Nations General Assembly in October, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.

In 2009, President Barack Obama enacted reforms to eliminate restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba put in place during the administration of President George W. Bush in 2004. In 2011, Obama used his executive powers to ease “people-to-people” travel restrictions, allowing religious, educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.

Former US Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross remained in prison despite a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report in November 2012 that called for his immediate release. Gross was detained in Cuba in December 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing telecommunications equipment to religious groups. The working group said Gross’s detention was arbitrary and that Cuba’s government had failed to provide sufficient evidence of the charges against him.

In May, Cuba underwent its second Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Several countries expressed concern with repression of human rights defenders, increased arbitrary detentions, and lack of freedom of expression. Cuba rejected many of these recommendations on the grounds that they were “politically biased and built on false premises, resulting from efforts to discredit Cuba on the part of those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the diversity and the right to freedom of determination of the Cuban people.”

In November, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and consistent efforts to undermine the council’s work to respond to human rights violators.

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Fidel Castro’s Son Calls for Major Change in Cuba Baseball Policy

October 27, 2013 |

 HAVANA TIMES — Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro and team doctor of the Cuban baseball squad, requested that the Cuban players who fled the island and became professionals in the US Major Leagues be allowed to play with the national team in international tournaments, reported dpa news on Sunday.

“We need to change on both sides, we have to do something realistic, we have to do something for our players … [The current policy is] not good for athletes, for families, for anyone. We lost those players but why can’t they return to play again with the national team,” asked Castro, in an interview on Cuban baseball today by ESPN.

“We have to strive to not lose them. Unless we change, we lose the players, we lose everything,” he added.

IndustrialesCampeon2010The Famous “Industriales”

Up to 16 players who fled the island played this season in the Major Leagues, including the new idol of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Yasiel Puig.

Professional sports were abolished on the island in 1962, prohibiting Cuban athletes from working as professionals or joining foreign teams. Over the years it became routine for some athletes to skip out during trips abroad to try to build a future as professionals.

The sacrifice of having to leave their family is sometimes compensated with millions: This month Cuban first baseman José Dariel Abreu closed a record contract for a non-US player to play next season with the Chicago White Sox. He will earn US $68 million over six years.

Abreu defected from the island in August and obtained residency in Haiti, from where he began processing permits with the US Treasury Department in order to be a free agent and sign with the majors.

From Haiti he traveled to the Dominican Republic, where major league scouts were able to follow his progress as he trained.

Antonio Castro noted as an example the visit to Cuba this year by Jose Contreras, who defected and returned to the island after spending ten years playing in the United States. “I never expected to return to Cuba because many before me were not able to return, since the government considered us traitors,” he told ESPN.

Contreras escaped from the island in 2002 taking advantage of the presence of the national team in Monterrey, Mexico.

The return of the pitcher early this year was the first by an athlete who had abandoned a national team and came after the new Cuban immigration policy took effect on January 14, which allows for the return of athletes who left the country through irregular channels since the early ’90s and later as long as they had spent eight years abroad.

“Many want to go back and live here to teach children, is that bad? No, of course not. Contreras returned and is working for children to develop baseball. I love that idea,” Antonio Castro told the ESPN reporter in English during her recent visit to Cuba .

The island seems to be gradually lifting restrictions for high-level athletes that have existed for decades. The Cuban authorities, for example, announced on September 27 that they would allow their athletes to sign in the off season with teams in foreign leagues as long as they play in the Cuban leagues.

The reform seeks to “generate revenue” and “gradually increase wages,” explained the official daily Granma.

The measure is part of the process of market economic reforms being instituted by Raul Castro’s government.

In July, the Cuban Baseball Federation also announced that it had authorized the signing of active Cuban ballplayers with professional clubs abroad with the aim of “inserting Cuban baseball in the world.” Shortly after the authorities allowed the three players to sign with the Mexican professional team the Campeche Pirates.

“Cuba needs change, we are part of the world, we need to change,” Antonio Castro told ESPN.

Fidel-Castro-playing-baseball Antonio Castro’s Father in Earlier Times

fidel-hugo-baseball

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Cuba lets athletes compete in foreign leagues

By ANNE-MARIE GARCIA;  Associated Press Sep 27, 7:55 AM EDT

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba announced Friday that island athletes will be allowed to sign contracts to compete in foreign leagues, a shift from decades of policy that held professional sports to be anathema to socialist ideals.

The measure promises to greatly increase the amount of money baseball players and others are able to earn, and seems geared toward stemming a continuing wave of defections by athletes who are lured abroad by the possibility of lucrative contracts, sapping talent from national squads.

It was not immediately clear if the ruling would let Cuban baseball players jump to the U.S. Major Leagues without restrictions at home or under U.S. laws that restrict money transfers to the communist-led island. Athletes will be eligible to play abroad as long as they fulfill their commitments at home, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported. “It will be taken into account that they are in Cuba for the fundamental competitions of the year,” Granma said.

The paper said the decision was approved at a recent session of the Council of Ministers, which is headed up by President Raul Castro. “International experiences, including 10 sporting laws of various Latin American nations, were studied,” it added.

Until now, few Cuban baseball players have been permitted to play abroad. Alfredo Despaigne spent this summer with the Pirates of Campeche, Mexico. Previously, Omar Linares played in Japan.  In the 1990s, some athletes in other sports such as volleyball played in European leagues. A number of athletes, especially baseball players, have defected in recent months and years. They include Yasiel Puig, who signed a multimillion-dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Professional sports were outlawed under Fidel Castro in 1961, two years after the Cuban Revolution.

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Amnesty International, The State of the World’s Human Rights: CUBA

Amnesty International Annual Report 2013, May 22, 2013

Repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists increased. There were reports of an average of 400 short-term arrests each month and activists travelling from the provinces to Havana were frequently detained. Prisoners of conscience continued to be sentenced on trumped-up charges or held in pre-trial detention.

Rights to freedom of expression, association, movement and assembly

Peaceful demonstrators, independent journalists and human rights activists were routinely detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Many were detained and others were subjected to acts of repudiation by government supporters.

  • In March, local human rights activists faced a wave of arrests and local organizations reported 1,137 arbitrary detentions before and after the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

The authorities adopted a range of measures to prevent activists reporting on human rights including surrounding the homes of activists and disconnecting phones. Organizations whose activities had been tolerated by the authorities in the past, such as the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, were targeted. Independent journalists reporting on dissidents’ activities were detained.

The government continued to exert control over all media, while access to information on the internet remained challenging due to technical limitations and restrictions on content.

  • In July, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, one of Cuba’s most respected human rights and pro-democracy campaigners, died in a car accident in Granma Province. Several journalists and bloggers covering the hearing into the accident were detained for several hours.
  • Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, founder of the independent news agency Let’s Talk Press (Hablemos Press), was forced into a car in September, and reportedly beaten as he was driven to a police station. Before being released, he was told that he had become the “number one dissident journalist” and would be imprisoned if he continued his activities.

A number of measures were used to stop or penalize activities by political opponents. Many attempting to attend meetings or demonstrations were detained or prevented from leaving their homes. Political opponents, independent journalists and human rights activists were routinely denied visas to travel abroad.

  • For the 19th time since May 2008, Yoani Sánchez, an opposition blogger, was denied an exit visa. She had planned to attend the screening in Brazil of a documentary on blogging and censorship in which she featured.
  • In September, around 50 members of the Ladies in White organization were detained on their way to Havana to attend a public demonstration. Most were immediately sent back to their home provinces and then released; 19 were held incommunicado for several days.

In October, the government announced changes to the Migration Law that facilitate travel abroad, including the removal of mandatory exit visas. However, a series of requirements – over which the government would exercise discretion – could continue to restrict freedom to leave the country. The amendments were due to become effective in January 2013.

Prisoners of Conscience

Seven new prisoners of conscience were adopted by Amnesty International during the year; three were released without charge.

  • Antonio Michel Lima Cruz was released in October after completing his two-year sentence. He had been convicted of “insulting symbols of the homeland” and “public disorder” for singing anti-government songs. His brother, Marcos Máiquel, who received a longer sentence for the same offences, remained in prison at the end of the year.
  • Ivonne Malleza Galano and Ignacio Martínez Montejo were released in January, along with Isabel Haydee Álvarez, who was detained after calling for their release. They were held for 52 days without charge after taking part in a demonstration in November 2011. On their release, officials threatened them with “harsh sentences” if they continued dissident activities.
  • Yasmín Conyedo Riverón, a journalist and representative of Ladies in White in Santa Clara province, and her husband, Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori, were released on bail in April after nearly three months in prison. They faced charges of using violence or intimidation against a state official, who later withdrew the accusation.

Arbitrary Detention

Short-term arbitrary detention continued and reports of short-term incommunicado detentions were frequent.

  • In February, former prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García was detained and held incommunicado for three days. While detained, he was threatened with imprisonment if he continued dissident activities through the Patriotic Union of Cuba. In April, he was detained again on charges of “public disorder” and released 27 days later on condition that he give up political activism.
  • Ladies in White Niurka Luque Álvarez and Sonia Garro Alfonso, and Sonia’s husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were detained without charge in March. Niurka Luque Álvarez was released in October. Sonia Garro Alfonso and her husband remained in detention at the end of the year, but had not been formally charged.
  • Andrés Carrión Álvarez was arrested for shouting “freedom” and “down with communism” at a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. He was released after 16 days in prison. He was detained for five hours three days later and charged with another count of “public disorder”. He was released on condition that he report to the police once a week, and that he did not leave his home municipality without prior authorization or associate with government critics.

The U.S. Embargo against Cuba

In September, the USA renewed the Trading with the Enemy Act, which imposes financial and economic sanctions on Cuba and prohibits US citizens from travelling to and engaging in economic activities with the island. In November, the UN General Assembly adopted, for the 21st consecutive year, a resolution calling on the USA to lift the unilateral embargo.

The WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA and other UN agencies reported on the negative impact of the embargo on the health and wellbeing of Cubans and in particular on marginalized groups. In 2012, Cuba’s health care authority and UN agencies did not have access to medical equipment, medicines and laboratory materials produced under US patents.

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Human Rights Watch 2013 Report on Cuba,

The Human Rights Watch  Report  is available here: Human Rights Watch World Report, 2013

CUBA

Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the government of Raúl Castro continued to enforce political conformity using shoratct-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.

Although in 2010 and 2011 the Cuban government released dozens of political prisoners on the condition that they accept exile in exchange for their freedom, the government  continues to sentence dissidents to one to four-year prison terms in closed, summary trials,  and holds others for extended periods without charge. It has also relied increasingly upon arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move freely.

Political Prisoners

Cubans who dare to criticize the government are subject to criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, thus denying meaningful judicial independence. Political prisoners are routinely denied parole after completing the minimum required sentence as  punishment for refusing to participate in ideological activities such as “reeducation” classes.

The death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 after his 85-day hunger strike, and the subsequent hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Farinas, pressured the government to release the political prisoners from the “group of 75” (75 dissidents who were sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown). Yet most were forced to choose between ongoing prison sentences and forced exile, and dozens of other dissidents have been forced abroad to avoid imprisonment.

Dozens of political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons, according to human rights groups on the island. These groups estimate there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government does not prisons. Rogelio Tavío López—a member the Unión Patriótica de Cuba dissident group— was detained in March 2012 in Guantanamo province after organizing a protest to demand the release of political prisoners. He has since been held in detention without being brought before a judge or granted access to a lawyer.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

In addition to criminal prosecutions, the Cuban government has increasingly relied on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation—an independent human rights group that the government views as illegal—received reports of 2,074 arbitrary detentions by state agents in 2010, 4,123 in 2011, and 5,105 from January to September 2012.

The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many dissidents are subjected to beatings and threats as they are detained, even though they do not try to resist. Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. Victims of such arrests are held incommunicado for several hours to several days, often at police stations. In some cases, they are given an official warning, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings are aimed at discouraging them from participating in future activities seen as critical of the government.

In July, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained in Havana at the funeral of dissident Oswaldo Payá, who died in a car accident. Police officers broke up the non-violent procession and beat participants. The detainees were taken to a prison encampment where they were held incommunicado for 30 hours before being released without charge.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, which severely limits the right to freedom of expression. Only a tiny fraction of Cubans have the chance to read independently published articles and blogs because of the high cost of and limited access to the internet. A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for foreign websites or independent blogs, yet those who use these outlets to criticize the government are subjected to public smear campaigns, arbitrary arrests, and abuse by security agents. The authorities often confiscate their cameras, recorders, and other equipment. According to the independent journalists’ group Hablemos Press, authorities arbitrarily detained 19 journalists in September 2012, including Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who remained in prison without charge at this writing.

The Cuban government uses selective allocations of press credentials and visas, which are required by foreign journalists to report from the island, to control coverage of the island and punish media outlets seen as overly critical of the regime. For example, in anticipation of the March 2012 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba, the government denied visas to journalists from El Pais and El Nuevo Herald, newspapers whose reporting it has criticized as biased.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses. In the weeks leading up to and during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, authorities detained, beat, and threatened scores of human rights defenders.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

The Cuban government forbids the country’s citizens from leaving or returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which is often denied to those who criticize the government. For example, acclaimed blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has been critical of the government, has been denied the right to leave the island at least 19 times since 2008, including in February 2012 after the Brazilian government granted her a visa to attend a documentary screening.

Yoani Sanchez did receive a passport on January 30, 2013, following the reform of Cuba’s Migratory Laws. Presumably she will be allowed to return as well as to leave.

The Cuban government uses forced family separation to punish defectors and silence critics. It frequently bars citizens engaged in authorized travel from taking their children with them overseas, essentially holding children hostage to guarantee their parents’ return. The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba by enforcing a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires Cubans to obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents traveling to Havana to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. More than 57,000 Cubans are in prisons or work camps, according to a May 2012 article in an official government newspaper. Prisoners who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are often subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, giving prison authorities total impunity. In January 2012, Wilman Villar Mendoza, 31, died after a 50-day hunger strike in prison, which he initiated to protest his unjust trial and inhumane prison conditions. He had been detained in November 2011 after participating in a peaceful demonstration, and was sentenced to four years in prison for “contempt” in a summary trial in which he had no lawyer. After beginning his hunger strike, he was stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement in a cold cell. He was transferred to a hospital only days before he died.

Key International Actors

The United States’ economic embargo on Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people, and has done nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. At the United Nations General Assembly in November, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.

In 2009, President Barack Obama enacted reforms to eliminate limits on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, which had been put in place during the administration of President George W. Bush. In 2011, Obama used his executive powers to ease “people-to-people” travel restrictions, allowing religious, educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba. However, in May 2012 the Obama administration established additional requirements to obtain “people to people” licenses, which has reduced the frequency of such trips.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.

In June, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued a report on Cuba in which it expressed concern about reports of inhumane prison conditions and the use of ambiguous preventive detention measures such as “social dangerousness,” among other issues for which it said the Cuban government failed to provide key information.

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Nueva Sociedad: “Cuba Se Mueve”

A special edition of Nueva Sociedad entitled, Cuba se mueve, has just appeared.  Nueva Sociedad is a project of the Frederich Ebert Foundation of Germany’s Social Democratic Movement. It is a pleasant surprise that the authors include contributors from inside Cuba such as Alzugaray, as well as outside Cuba including DBlanco, Dilla and Farber.

The Table of Contents is presented below with hyperlinks to the original essays.

NUEVA SOCIEDAD 242   Noviembre-Diciembre 2012

 Leonardo Padura Fuentes Eppur si muove en Cuba.

Elizabeth Dore Historia oral y vida cotidiana en Cuba.

Juan Antonio Blanco Cuba en el siglo XXI. Escenarios actuales, cambios inevitables, futuros posibles.

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso Las encrucijadas de la política migratoria cubana.

Juan Triana Cordoví Cuba: ¿de la «actualización» del modelo económico al desarrollo?

Alejandro de la Fuente «Tengo una raza oscura y discriminada». El movimiento afrocubano: hacia un programa consensuado.

Velia Cecilia Bobes Diáspora, ciudadanía y contactos transnacionales.

Samuel Farber La Iglesia y la izquierda crítica en Cuba.

Carlos Alzugaray Las (inexistentes) relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos en tiempos de cambio.

 

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“Euphoria” in Cuba as Raúl Castro Loosens Travel Policy

By Juan O. Tamayo, Miami Herald, October 17, 2012

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/17/v-fullstory/3054779/euphoria-in-cuba-as-raul-castro.html#storylink=cpy

The Cuban government’s bombshell decision to drop the widely hated exit permits required for citizens travelling abroad has unleashed “euphoria” on the island as well as concerns abroad over a possible mass exodus.
A decree published Tuesday made it clear the communist government will continue to decide who can leave the island, as it has since Jan. 9, 1959. It repeatedly noted that any Cuban could be kept from travelling “when the proper authorities so decide.”
“But there is an incredible euphoria here because what 1 million or more people here really want is to leave” for good or just to visit relatives or friends abroad, dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said from Havana.
University of Miami professor Jaime Suchlicki warned of a “legal Mariel.” And a pro-Cuba activist urged Washington to avert a possibly massive increase in the number of Cubans arriving by ending its wet-foot, dry-foot policies and the Cuban Adjustment Act.
State Department spokesman William Ostick said Washington welcomed the changes because they favor human rights, but warned Cubans not to “risk their lives” crossing the Straits of Florida and noted that they still need visas to enter most nations.
“Now the question is where, where can we go to,” said Katarina Ponce, a recently laid off government secretary, trying to figure out if any countries do not require Cubans to obtain visas in advance of their arrival. “Russia? Cambodia? Any place.”
Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied exit permits more than 20 times, wrote on Tweeter that “The devil is in the details of the new migration law” and called the decree “gatopardista” — a situation where change is more apparent than real.
The new rules appear likely to allow more average Cubans — those without political or other issues pending with the government — to travel abroad more easily, stay out longer and return with fewer complications, costs and paperwork.
They also may help ease some of the social and financial pressures ballooning inside Cuba under Raúl Castro’s decisions to reform the economy by laying off nearly 1 million state employees and cutting subsidies to the food, health and education sectors.
More than 1 million Cubans now live abroad, mostly in the United States, and about 7,400 islanders without visas arrived in the United States in the one-year period that ended Sept. 30. All Cubans who step on U.S. soil can stay permanently.
The decree noted that as of Jan. 14, Cubans will no longer need the exit permits, which cost $150 in a country where the average monthly wage stands at $20. They also will not need letters of invitation from their foreign hosts, which cost $200 to process.
The changes also extend from 11 to 24 months the amount of time that Cubans can spend abroad before they are ruled to have officially migrated and lose benefits such as health care. Further extensions are possible.
But the government retains final say on who gets passports because U.S. migration policies that favor Cuban migrants “take away from us the human resources that are indispensable to the economic, social and scientific development of the country,” according to a report Tuesday in the Granma newspaper announcing the changes.
Supervisors must approve the issuance of passports to government and military officials, professionals, physicians and other medical personnel, top sports figures and others whose work is deemed “vital” to the state, according to the decree.
Passports also can be denied to any Cuban “when it is so determined by the appropriate authorities for other reasons of public interest,” the decree added, or when “reasons of defense and national security suggest it.”
“If that’s the way it is, then I have to believe that the government will be as arbitrary as always,” said Wilfredo Vallín, a Havana lawyer who heads the non-government Cuban Judicial Association.
Also barred from obtaining passports — whose price rose from about $60 to about $110 — are those who are subject to the military draft or have other unspecified “obligations” to the government.
“The government continues to regard migration not as a right of all Cubans but as a gift that it gives to people according to its own interests,” said Juan Antonio Blanco, a Florida International University professor who has studied Cuba’s migration regulations.
The decree also abolishes the reentry permit required for Cubans who live abroad and wish to visit the island, and extends the time they can visit from one month to at least three months per visit.
Not all will be welcomed back, however. Blocked are those who “organize, encourage or participate in hostile actions against the political, economic and social basis of the state,” and any others “when reasons of defense and national security call for it.”
Also on the don’t-come list, according to the decree, are those with criminal records for terrorism, money laundering or weapons smuggling, and those “linked to acts against humanity, human dignity (or) the collective health.”
“This continues the government effort to control the conduct of citizens inside and outside the island, through an opaque system that rewards and punishes at its own discretion,” said Blanco, a former analyst for the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
The migration reforms were the most anticipated of all the changes that Raúl Castro has been talking about and putting in place since he took over from older brother Fidel Castro, temporarily in 2006 and officially in 2008.
The exit permit was required in 1959 initially to block the escape of officials and supporters of the Batista government toppled by the Castro revolution just nine days before. The re-entry permit was required beginning in 1961, to try to control the return of radical Castro opponents.
But Raúl Castro told the nation’s legislature last year that Cuban migration policies needed an update because those leaving the country nowadays are “émigrés for economic reasons” rather than hostile exiles.
Suchlicki, head of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at UM, on Tuesday reissued a column he wrote on May 3 warning that Castro was planning a mass exodus to relieve pressures inside Cuba. The column was titled, “Is Cuba planning a legal Mariel?”
John McAuliff, a New York activist who has long opposed the U.S. embargo on the island, also predicted that with more Cubans free to travel abroad, more will wind up in Mexico and Canada and will step across the U.S. border.
The Obama administration should therefore immediately end the wet-foot, dry-foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. territory to stay permanently, and to remain, McAuliff wrote in an email.
Mauricio Claver Carone, executive director of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington, remained skeptical.
When Cubans start jamming foreign diplomatic missions in Havana in search of visas and come up empty handed, he said, the Castro government will tell them, “Well as you can see, other countries also don’t want you to travel.”
Even more skeptical was Blanco. “When all this blows over, the Cubans and the media will realize that not much has changed in the tight control system,” he said. “Stalin can continue to sleep in peace.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/17/v-fullstory/3054779/euphoria-in-cuba-as-raul-castro.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

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