Tag: Havana

Cuba Lifts De Facto Travel Ban … Maybe

In a move expected for over a year, the Cuban government announced today that, starting January 13th, it will lift the travel ban it imposed on its citizens since 1961. This is certainly not an official travel ban. Cubans are allowed to leave the island as long as they get an exit visa and have a letter of invitation from the country they want to visit. But in practice, only few Cubans get the exit visa—and most of them, if not all, are sympathetic to the regime. Well known dissents like Yoani Sánchez are repeatedly denied their exit visas despite having invitation letters from abroad. So in practice, it is a travel ban on the Cuban people.

What lies behind the decision is up for debate. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the economic “reforms” implemented by the regime in recent years aren’t working. The Economist recently reported that the timid changes announced shortly after Raúl Castro came to power “have indeed paused.” Exactly a year ago, I wrote about how the U.S. government registered the first rise in illegal Cuban immigration by sea in 3 years. Given the increasingly tough economic conditions, La Havana might be resorting to the “escape valve” of emigration to ease social discontent.

Or maybe little will change in practice, as has been the case with the much heralded economic reforms. Cubans are required to apply for a passport and, as the official newspaper Granma announced today, the issuance of passports will be denied for several reasons such as:

  1. Defense and national security reasons.
  2. Having a security measure pending.
  3. Having “obligations” with the Cuban government.
  4. Preserving a “qualified” labor force for the development and security of the country.
  5. “Public interest” reasons determined by the authorities.

As we can see, the new restrictions to get a passport are so nebulous and discretionary that in practice it’s very likely that the Cuban government will continue to prohibit most of its people from traveling. Thus, it’s better to wait and see if the restrictions are actually lifted and Cubans are allowed to travel abroad more or less freely. If that happens, a new dynamic will enter into play that might accelerate (or delay) the implementation of further political reforms.

Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez Keeps Speaking Truth to Power

Yoani SanchezIt’s the 490th anniversary of Havana today and the Cuban government has arranged for celebratory activities. Ordinary residents of Havana and all Cubans who cherish their civil and human rights have less to celebrate, however, as Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez regularly reminds us. Sanchez has become a major irritant of the regime because of her penetrating posts about the absurdities and injustices of everyday life in communist Cuba. You can see her blog in Spanish here, and in English here.

Just over a week ago, in an incident that was widely reported in the international press and that reveals the threat to the Cuban regime of the growing Cuban blogger movement, Sanchez was assaulted in Havana by plain-clothed government agents. Though she was forcefully beaten, she and her friends managed to fight back and get away. More than that, they took pictures of their assailants and of the incident for posting on the blog, prompting the government thugs to leave the scene. One photo of an agent features the caption “She is covering her face…Perhaps afraid of the future.” Another photo features Sanchez pursuing her assailants with the caption: “They have watched us for decades. Now we are watching them.” Very smart.

As it happens, last week we posted a beautifully written paper by Sanchez (in Spanish) on Cato’s Spanish-language web page, www.elcato.org. (The paper just won a prize in an essay contest in Mexico organized by TV Azteca at which my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo was a judge.) Her essay, “Liberty as a Form of Payment,” describes the fraudulent deal that Castro promised when he came to power. In exchange for liberty, Cubans would be better off culturally, economically, and in other ways. Sanchez describes the reality of social control under communist Cuba in which the real exchanges occur as a consequence of the power relationship. Access to housing, jobs, new goods, and the possibility of minor improvements in life, all depend on a well documented support of the revolution through attendance of mass meetings and membership in the communist party, for example.

Or through personal relationships with those in power. Sanchez describes how young women long ago began prostituting themselves to high ministry or military officials in exchange for non-monetary goods or privileges. Such “courtesans of socialism” later turned to traditional prostitution with the arrival of currency convertibility in Cuba. Sanchez also optimistically describes the role that technology, especially the internet, is playing in creating spaces of liberty. In a country where people increasingly feel the regime’s days are numbered, such exercises of personal freedom can be powerful.

Cuban Agents Beat Up Young Dissident (and ElCato.org Contributor)

A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba and meet with a group of young dissidents. Despite their early age, these guys had already suffered enormously the rigors of their totalitarian government. One of them had been imprisoned four times for his political activism. Constant official harassment was their daily life. But they remain unrepentant about their desire for liberty.

I’m still in touch with one of the guys I met that day, a young independent journalist. Every week he sends me articles and newsletters reporting instances of human rights abuses, lack of opportunities for young people, and how life is in general in the Castro prison-island. We have published several of his articles on ElCato.org.

Last Sunday, my friend was headed to a meeting of young dissidents when he was intercepted by government thugs. This is how Reporters Without Borders reported what happened next:

An attack by State Security agents on 5 April left Alvaro Yero Felipe, a young Havana-based dissident journalist, with a badly bruised face, a broken nose and a split lip. He was on his way with two friends to a meeting in support of prisoners of conscience when members of the political police intercepted him, took him to a nearby park and gave him a beating. “Yero’s experience is unfortunately representative of the mixture of harassment and brutality used by the authorities to crack down on dissent,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As the government has signed UN human rights conventions, it should logically punish officials who violate the international undertakings it has given.

This incident happened the same week that several U.S. Congressmen met with the Castro brothers in Havana and lavished praised on the eldest dictator, Fidel, to whom one of the congressmen described as the “ultimate survivor.” However, the ultimate survivors are the dissidents like my friend Álvaro Yero, who every day risk their life and limbs in pursuit of liberty. He’s my personal hero.