On October 16, 2009, five Cuban emigrants, Siro del Castillo, Dr. Juan Antonio Blanco Gil, Dr. Willy Allen, Dr. Carmen Diaz, and Dr. Haroldo Dilla, submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) addressing the Cuban government’s restrictions on freedom of movement. The petition alleged that the government routinely commits human rights violations, which include requiring emigrants to apply for permission to return to Cuba, confiscating the property of Cubans who leave “illegally,” and charging inaccessible rates for telephone and internet communications in rural areas of the country. These civil society representatives want the Cuban government to change its migration laws to allow more freedom of movement and make the current laws known to Cuban citizens.

Blanco and Castillo spoke on behalf of the five representatives at an IACHR hearing on November 6, 2009. Blanco began by summarizing the restrictions the Cuban government places on citizens living abroad as well as residents within the country. For example, citizens must request permission from the government to enter or exit the country, which is generally an arbitrary decision, and unapproved travel may lead to criminal prosecution. Blanco asserted that Cuba and North Korea are currently the only countries that make their own citizens go through such a process to return to their homeland. Blanco then compared Cuba to countries such as Mexico, China, Vietnam, and Libya, all of which allow their citizens to leave and return without imposing significant limitations. Castillo explained that at least 24,000 Cubans throughout the world have been blocked from petitioning for reentry into Cuba because the government has determined that they left illegally. Castillo, who lives in Florida, left Cuba in 1972 and has not been allowed to return since, despite the fact that he has traveled all over the world and never changed his citizenship.

The Commissioners followed by asking several questions about the internal restrictions on freedom of movement, the reliability of the representatives’ data, and what the parties request the Commission do with the information presented to them.

Regarding the internal restrictions, Blanco candidly stated, “People travel from areas of anemia to the areas of cholesterol. People are trying to find a better life.” Rural Cubans want to travel to Havana and Cubans in Havana want to travel abroad. Within the country, Cubans must have a permit specifying the number of days they are allowed to stay in certain area. If they are detected in an unauthorized area, the government forces them to return home. This leads to racial discrimination, as most Cubans in the impoverished eastern provinces are afro-descendent, and most Cubans in “rich” Havana are white.

Blanco then added that even if the petition’s figures weren’t exact, these policies apply universally to the 11 million people living in Cuba as well as the 2 million Cubans living abroad. He stressed that these discriminatory laws affect all Cubans and that the government should not be able to sanction anyone’s movements. (Visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for information about U.S.-imposed restrictions on freedom of movement to Cuba.)

Blanco and Castillo requested that the Commission include this information in their annual report on Cuba and ask the special rapporteurs of migrants to work with the Cuban government to improve the migration laws and make them known to citizens. After the hearing, Blanco acknowledged that the IACHR lacks supervisory power over Cuba, but that he hoped their report would reach the UN because the Cuban government is likely to heed the UN’s advice.

Blanco, a resident of Canada, writes a blog called Cambio de época for a news site, where he discusses current issues in Cuba such as the government’s restrictions on freedom of movement.