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Trapped in Cuba

The Cuban constitution doesn’t establish this as a criminal offence, nor does the Migration Act (Act No. 1312). In fact, this “regulation” is based on a concept found within the penal code, which establishes the dangers of pre-criminal activity and makes it possible to detain someone or punish a crime before it is even committed.

There is no explanation as to what reasons of national defence and security, or public interest, justify “regulating” a Cuban citizen. There is no secondary regulation that identifies these motives. Therefore, everything is left in the hands of a whimsical decision by the migration authorities, who answer to the Ministry of the Interior (MININT).

The person who is subject to these “regulations”, do not know why they are unable to go abroad, the duration of this measure or the consequences it entails. Journalist Boris González Arenas explained to a publication in 14 y medio: “The current Cuban Constitution has an act that is not habeas data [although it is similar], but by which one can ask the State for the information it has on him. I asked Immigration to find out the reason for my ‘regulation’. Of course, there was no answer.”

A “regulated” can go to the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreigners (DIIE), in the same building where the Identity Card is granted, both of which belong to MININT. But the experience of this journalist clearly shows how irrelevant this procedure is.

All of this becomes even more incomprehensible and incoherent, when we remember that the penal code itself in Chapter IV: Crimes against freedom of expression of thought, article 291, paragraph 1, establishes the following: “ Whoever, in any way, prevents another from exercising the right to freedom of speech or press guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws, is punished with imprisonment of three months to one year or a fine of one hundred to three hundred thousand dollars or both.”

Oscar Ramirez Alvarez, on of the “regulated”, says that: “I don’t have any judicial process pending and they don’t tell me exactly why”, he says that they have tried to condition the lifting of my travel ban to “signing some documents or record a video saying that I will not participate in the opposition policy abroad”.

Another method of restricting freedom and imposing fear is the detention of citizens for a few hours. State security agents also prevent people from leaving their homes by infringing on their freedom of movement. Amnesty’s 2015 report counted 1,400 such arrests. Most of these citizens were detained for between 1 and 30 hours. According to the Cuban Human Rights Observatory, more than 200 arbitrary detentions were recorded in January 2020. Most of them were carried out in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Villa Clara. Fourteen citizens were “regulated” in the first month of 2020.

The report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recorded several cases of persecution of journalists from independent media outlets such as Periodismo de Barrio, Diario de Cuba, La Hora de Cuba, Cocodrilo Callejero, and 14yMedio. Between February and March 2018, 16 journalists were prevented from traveling abroad. Human Rights Watch reported in 2019 that the government continued to carry out arbitrary detentions. The number of short-term arbitrary detentions increased between 2010 and 2016, from a monthly average of 172 incidents to 827.

From 2018 onwards, the arrests of artists such as Tania Bruguera and members of the San Isidro Movement, who opposed Article 349 of that year, were added to the list. Using the excuse of controlling the cultural quality of reggaeton in the country, the government intended to appoint inspectors to verify the works of art. Many of the artists who reacted to Decree 349 were considered apolitical, none of them presenting themselves as opponents.

A young artist involved in the demonstrations said: “The opposition is facing a deeply oppressive government, they take away your identity as a citizen, they persecute you, they turn you into a criminal. It is a very high political and social cost, so there is a lot of fear. The community is broken.” A young independent journalist told us that the dissidents are very lonely. Often out of fear their friends or families isolate them. In other cases, these young people confront their parents who continue to defend the Revolution. One young woman told us that she believed her parents were clinging to the idea of the Revolution because facing the failure of that utopia meant facing the failure of their own lives. From a more sophisticated perspective, one of them told us “it’s anthropological damage. My parents had their capacity to think critically removed.”

Since the introduction of the internet, Twitter has become a shop window, along with Facebook, where arbitrary arrests, bans on foreign travel, beatings during demonstrations, or intimidation of the Ladies in White are reported. It is also where Cubans laugh at the clumsiness of their leaders and mock their own daily struggles.

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