Grounded Cubans

Grounded Cubans

By Julieta Pelcastre / Diálogo
November 26, 2019

Cuba tightens a travel ban abroad on specific citizens to prevent the disclosure of abuses by the authorities.

Although Cuba lifted restrictions for citizens to leave the country in January 2014, the Caribbean nation continues to prevent independent journalists, civil activists, and political opponents from traveling abroad. This violates freedom of movement and expression, Katherine Mojena Hernández, coordinator of the Cuban nongovernmental organization (NGO) Unión Patriótica, told Diálogo. The NGO advocates for the rights and liberties of the Cuban people.

“Migratory regulation is a common tool the regime uses to restrict public criticism that bothers them,” said Mojena. “There’s a political police on the island [part of the State Security Department] that’s above the law and all institutions. They are the ones who decide not only who can leave the country, but also who can enter, based on their illegal and repressive criteria.” As such, authorities label some citizens as “regulated,” or grounded.

“I am not allowed to leave Cuba because I think differently from the government, and I voice my disagreement,” Rosalía Viñas, a board member of Convivencia, a think tank and NGO based in Havana, told Diálogo. “This is the fourth time authorities prohibited me from travelling to Sweden to take part in an event about the internet and governance, because I show up as being grounded in the National Unified Information System.”

The Patmos Institute, a Cuban NGO that monitors and advocates for human rights and religious freedom, showed a list of grounded citizens in September 2019, where Viñas and Mojena appear along with almost 200 human rights activists who are barred from leaving the country to take part in events, forums, and workshops that don’t align with the Cuban regime.

Bruno Rodríguez, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, told U.S. news agency the Associated Press that he didn’t know the reasons behind banning travel for certain citizens. “That would have to be analyzed case by case. Cuban migratory regulations are similar to those of any country and modern migratory policy that sets laws restricting the exit from the country of people who know classified information,” he said.

“The minister [Rodríguez] was forced to lie, as usual. It was the best answer he could find to justify the unjustifiable,” Mojena said. “When they are asked why, they always say they don’t know and repeat only what the immigration system says.”

In the documentary series The Grounded (Los Regulados), created by independent audiovisual magazine ADV, journalist Osmel Ramírez Álvarez from Diario de Cuba and Havana Times says that the regime has offered to change his status in exchange for his signed and recorded pledge not to oppose the government. As of October 10, 2019, Ramírez had been grounded for 700 days. “It’s a method commonly used by the repressive Cuban apparatus to punish political opponents, civil society activists, and independent journalists. The island becomes an open-air prison, where the ‘convicted’ individuals don’t know when they will be freed,” the documentary said.

Mojena and Viñas agree that the surge of arbitrary restrictions occurred because the government thought that most opponents would flee the country at the earliest opportunity after the new immigration law was passed in January 2018.

“To help eliminate this migratory regulation, we must use every chance to report how the Cuban regime violates Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,’” Mojena said.

Among other suspended rights, grounded citizens cannot request or renew their passport, and authorities restrict their movement with arrests, threats, kidnapping, and deportation to their provinces of origin, as if they were undocumented.

“After the last time I was denied the possibility to leave the country, I feel stronger and more determined to work for a free, democratic, and pluralistic Cuba. It’s hard right now, but this struggle gives me strength to defend my thoughts and beliefs and to demand my right to travel freely, despite the government’s repeated violations of its own migratory law,” Viñas concluded.