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Report blames U.S., Cuba for policies

By DAVID ADAMS
Published October 20, 2005


MIAMI - Cuba and the United States came in for equal criticism in a new human rights report Wednesday, which branded "inhumane" travel restrictions by both countries as causing painful separation for many Cuban families.

"The U.S. and Cuban travel restrictions reflect an utter disregard for the welfare of families," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the Washington, D.C.-based group Human Rights Watch. "Both countries are sacrificing people's freedom of movement to promote dead-end policies."

The 69-page report focuses on regulations in both countries that violate international law by strictly limiting travel abroad, either as a means of political control in Cuba's case, or as an economic weapon by the United States against the Cuban government.

As a result, irreparable harm is caused to many families on both sides of the ideologically divided Straits of Florida. Children often end up separated from one or both of their parents for many years, marriages fold under the strain, and the sick and elderly die without the comfort of loved ones nearby.

The report focuses on changes to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba by the Bush administration last summer, which restrict Cuban-American families to only one visit to the island every three years. Visits are limited to immediate family members, not including uncles, aunts or cousins and allows for no humanitarian exceptions.

The report called for the lifting of the 43-year-old embargo, which Vivanco described as "totally ineffective and counter-productive," as well having no international support outside the United States.

"We don't understand why Cuban families have to pay the price for an ill-conceived policy," he said.

For its part, Cuba was criticized for routinely refusing to grant its citizens permission to leave the island, as well as denying re-entry to those who leave. The report called on Cuba to abolish its travel restrictions, especially as a form of punishment for dissident political views.

Among the cases cited by the report was Cuban doctor Hilda Molina, who has for the past 10 years been denied permission to visit her son in Argentina. "She was told she could not go because her brain was the property of the Cuban government," said Daniel Wilkinson, a HRW researcher. Miami resident Marisela Romero was refused permission to visit her widowed 87-year-old father suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Before the new travel restrictions came into effect, she often traveled to Cuba to care for him, taking medicines and diapers. "He would always brighten up when I was there. I could tell it made a difference to him," she said in an interview.

She last saw him in May 2004, but was not able to return when he was nearing death. She paid neighbors to look after him. He died last October without any close relatives by his side.

National Guard medic Sgt. Carlos Lazo, 40, was prevented from traveling to Cuba last summer to visit his two teenage sons during a two-week leave from Iraq. Because he had visited them in 2003 the new regulations prevent him from returning until 2006.

"I just wanted to go down there and give them a hug and come right back," he said by telephone. "I served my country in the battle for Fallujah, but that wasn't good enough." U.S. officials told him in meetings that their hands were tied by the law.

Lazo's story may soon have a happy ending. U.S. officials agreed to issue visas to Lazo's sons to allow them visit him in the United States. The boys are due to be reunited with their father in Miami on Friday.

But Lazo isn't satisfied. "What about all the other families?" he said.

[Last modified October 20, 2005, 01:20:19]


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