HRW Report: U.S. and Cuban Policies Forcibly Separate Families
U.S. and Cuban Policies Forcibly Separate Families
Both Governments Impose Inhumane Travel Restrictions
(Miami, October 19, 2005) — Both Cuba and the United States have imposed
harsh travel restrictions that cause the forced separation of Cuban
families, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Based on interviews with dozens of Cubans and Cuban-Americans, the
report documents the terrible human cost of these restrictions, which
have torn young children away from their parents, and prevented adults
from caring for ailing relatives—including in some cases dying parents.
“The U.S. and Cuban travel restrictions reflect an utter disregard for
the welfare of families,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at
Human Rights Watch. “Both countries are sacrificing people’s freedom of
movement to promote dead-end policies.”
The 69-page report, “Families Torn Apart: The High Cost of U.S. and
Cuban Travel Restrictions,” shows how the travel policies of both
countries infringe upon the internationally recognized right to freedom
of movement, which includes the right to leave and return to one’s own
country. In the case of parents and children forced to reside in
different countries, the policies also violate the international
prohibition on the involuntary separation of families.
As the Human Rights Watch report documents, Cuba routinely refuses to
grant its citizens permission to leave their country and often denies
those who have left without permission the right to return. Cuba also
frequently denies citizens engaged in authorized travel the right to
bring their children with them overseas, as a means to guarantee the
parents’ return. Given the widespread fear of forced family separation,
the travel restrictions provide the Cuban government with a powerful
tool for punishing defectors and silencing critics.
The emotional toll of Cuba’s travel policies on family members is
immeasurable. A Cuban physicist who now lives in Brazil, for example,
has never been able to meet his six-year-old son. His ex-wife and son
are in Cuba, but because he violated Cuban travel restrictions by
refusing to return from an authorized trip abroad in 2000, the Cuban
government has barred him from visiting the island to see his child.
A Cuban mother in Mexico, who was separated from her sons for three
years in similar circumstances, told Human Rights Watch that she felt
like the Cuban government “tore out a piece of my life.”
The report also documents the impact of the restrictions on
family-related travel that the Bush administration enacted in June 2004.
Under the new rules, individuals are allowed to visit relatives in Cuba
only once every three years and only if these relatives fit the Bush
administration’s narrow definition of “family,” which excludes uncles,
aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins.
A Cuban-American woman in Miami was forced to end her frequent trips to
care for her ailing father, a widower with advanced Alzheimer’s disease
and no immediate relatives left in Cuba. She was unable to help or
comfort him as he succumbed to depression, stopped eating, and
A U.S. Army sergeant, denied permission to visit his two sons in Cuba
during a two-week furlough from active duty in Iraq, was forced to
return to the front lines feeling he had been unable to “fulfill [his]
obligation as a father.”
“For decades the Cuban government has systematically denied the basic
rights of its citizens,” Vivanco said. “But rather than promoting
freedom in Cuba, the Bush administration’s travel ban has undermined a
basic freedom of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban Americans
Human Rights Watch called on the Cuban government to abolish
restrictions on travel that violate the right to freedom of movement. In
particular, the government should reform its criminal code to eliminate
the crimes of illegal exit and illegal entry (articles 215, 216, and
217). It should also end all policies and regulations that serve to
separate families, including the restriction barring those who have left
without permission or overstayed their travel authorizations from
returning to Cuba for five years.
Similarly, Human Rights Watch called upon the U.S. government to
eliminate restrictions on travel that limit the ability of Cubans and
Cuban Americans to visit the island. At a minimum, at least until the
travel restrictions are eliminated, the U.S. government should establish
humanitarian exceptions that would allow individuals to obtain
permission to visit relatives in Cuba who are facing grave medical or
other emergency conditions.
http://hrw.org/reports/2005/cuba1005/Tags: army, freedom, freedom of movement, human rights, illegal, travel