In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Despite “reforms,” some Cubans aren’t free to travel

For all of the Cuban dissidents and bloggers who have taken to the skies to exercise a right that we, in the free world, take for granted — the right to travel freely — there are other Cubans who still cannot do so.

Despite the so-called reforms, key figures in the dissident movement are arbitrarily being denied permission to go abroad and return home.

Among the most prominent is Dr. Oscar Biscet, a physician and respected human-rights activist since the late 1980s, who was released from prison two years ago after serving eight years of a 25-year sentence for “crimes against state security” —charges stemming from acts of free expression and assembly.

“The denial is like punishment,” his wife, Elsa Morejón, told me.

She is visiting South Florida to see her son, who moved here 11 years ago, and her ailing 79-year-old father, Juan Morejón, a political prisoner during the 1960s and ‘70s, living here since he was freed in 1980.

Biscet wanted to accompany his wife, but although he has a valid passport, the Cuban government told him that if he left, he would not be allowed to return. A trip to Miami would mean he would have to leave the country for good.

“My father didn’t want to die without seeing him,” Morejón said.

By denying Biscet re-entry, which Cuba supposedly guaranteed under the travel reforms, the government in effect issued a denial. So Biscet stayed.

“Oscar says he is not leaving Cuba,” Morejón said. “My husband has always been a man consistent in what he says and what he does. He has never agreed to any pact or settlement with the Castros and that’s why he annoys them so much.”

When I spoke to Morejón on Monday it was, coincidentally, the anniversary of Biscet’s release from prison on March 11, 2011.

He was arrested in 2002 for arranging a gathering in Havana with other civic activists from Matanzas province, and when the police came to stop them, Biscet staged a peaceful sit-in at the house where they were meeting.

This is enough in Cuba to generate serious charges.

It was but his latest arrest and detention. He had been repeatedly incarcerated before for similar peaceful acts of defiance, like displaying a flag upside down as a symbol of distress.

His release in 2011 — which came at the same time as that of other political prisoners who were sent to exile in Spain under an agreement negotiated by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the Spanish government — left Biscet, who refused to be exiled, in a parole-like situation.

“A prisoner at home,” Morejón describes it. “It’s the new peculiarity of the Cuban political prisoner.”

Instead of a “ carta de libertad,” the document that grants a full release from his sentence, Biscet was given a “ l icensia extra penal,” which can be revoked at any time.

The same parole status was applied to the political prisoners from the group of 75 who went to prison in the “Black Spring” of 2003 and refused to be exiled to Spain. They also cannot freely travel and return like others.

Among those denied permission to travel are Angel Moya, husband of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, who traveled to Spain last week under the new travel rules and has been accosted by pro-Cuban government mobs there; and José Daniel Ferrer, another dissident leader who actively tweets and posts videos online denouncing government abuses.

“The cardinal negotiated the terms [of their release from prison] and that is why it is this way,” Morejón charges. “They have not been given their carta de libertad.”

The new travel measures eliminated the exit permit requirement for traveling abroad, the so-called white card. But the government added language giving the state the right to withhold passports for people with pending legal cases and for undefined reasons of national security and public interest.

Biscet, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, has many pending invitations to travel abroad. He has been internationally recognized with the highest humanitarian honors by the governments of Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Unites States.

But then as now, Biscet has received nothing but rebuffs to travel requests.

For all that may appear to be evolving in Cuba, in reality little has changed when the government still manipulates the right to travel as a privilege to bestow — and a weapon with which to punish its citizens.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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