CubaBrief: Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, the right to leave and return to your own country, and the Castro regime

On January 29, 2020 Cuban independent journalist and human rights defender Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina planned to travel to the United States to give a presentation on the state of human rights in Cuba the following day. He went to the airport and was getting ready to board his flight that was scheduled to depart at 9:45pm. One hour and 25 minutes before his international flight was due to take off at approximately 8:20pm immigration officials told him that he had been “regulado” – regulated and that he would not be allowed to travel. 

Rolando was able to take a selfie inside the airport and get a text message out to a member of his movement the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) that read “Stopped by immigration. They tell me that I am regulated. They will take me to the PNR (national revolutionary police) , I don’t know which one.”  He was not heard from again by his family members for five days.

Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina's selfie sent with text

Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina’s selfie sent with text

Two days after his disappearance on January 31, 2020 Rolando’s sister, Marisabel Rodríguez Lobaina, went to speak to officials of the regime in Baracoa, in Guantanamo province to ascertain what happened to her brother.  They claimed that he had been released the same night he had been detained, but that turned out to be untrue.

Marisabel gave an interview to the Diario las Americas that appeared on February 1, 2020 explaining what had happened, and her fears for her brother’s safety.  On February 3, 2020 over twitter the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that they were investigating the case of Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina.  He was released later that night after having no contact with his family for over five days.

Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, in a press release by the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO), outlined what had happened to him over the previous five days.

“I want to denounce the arbitrary arrest that I was subjected to last January 29th when I was preparing to travel from the José Martí International Airport to the United States to participate in an event on human rights [..] I was arrested and authorities violated my right to enter and exit from the country. I was taken to the Boyeros Municipality police unit, the next day I was transferred to VIVAC in Havana and two days later I was transferred to eastern Cuba, specifically to Bayamo, where I remained until today when I was released.”

Rolando is the director of Palenque Vision, an audio-visual project, and coordinator of the Eastern Democratic Alliance in the island (ADO).  ADO was formed fifteen years ago with the objective of defending human rights in eastern Cuba. Palenque Vision was founded in 2012 and provides video interviews from inside Cuba to international media.

Rolando is also not alone. In January Eduardo Cardet, of the Christian Liberation Movement and a former prisoner of conscience, was also not allowed to travel out of Cuba.

Eduardo Cardet also not allowed to leave Cuba in January 2020

Eduardo Cardet also not allowed to leave Cuba in January 2020

On February 1, 2020  Kirenia Yalit Núñez Pérez, Amaury Pacheco del Monte, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Maydolis González and Cristina Rodríguez Penton were stopped from boarding flight to Brussels, reported 14ymedio. These five Cubans had planned to take part in a Cuba human rights event at the European Parliament.

The Patmos Institute has been keeping a running tally, a partial number due to fear of further repirals, of Cubans who have not been able to travel out of the country despite having all their documents in order. On February 4, 2020 the list stood at 234. Imagine the above outlined nightmare replicated 234 times.

Five Cubans stopped from traveling on February 1st to attend human rights event in European Parliament

Five Cubans stopped from traveling on February 1st to attend human rights event in European Parliament

Seven years ago optimists claimed that these days were over, and that Cubans would be able to travel freely inside and outside of Cuba.  Havana claimed in early 2013 that Cubans would no longer need the infamous “white card”, an exit permit to leave the country. This was a document needed to travel into or out of Cuba. However, the reality since then continues to be the regime controlling who exits and who enters the country with restrictions that violate international norms.

The Patmos Institute does not include in this list those Cubans seeking to return to their homeland, and are refused entry.

Blanca Reyes, denied entry to Cuba to visit her dad

Blanca Reyes, denied entry to Cuba to visit her dad

Consider that during the Obama detente,  Blanca Reyes, a member of the Cuban dissident movement the Ladies in White who left to Spain with her husband, prisoner of conscience Raul Rivero in November 2004 was not able to visit the island. Blanca requested to return to Cuba in July 2013 to visit her ailing 93 year old father but was denied. He passed away in October 2013.

These family separations continue today.

Claudia Márquez Linares wanted to see her mom, but was denied

Claudia Márquez Linares wanted to see her mom, but was denied

On December 31, 2019 Claudia Márquez Linares, a former independent  journalist and founding member of the Ladies in White, flew from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Panama where she had a connecting flight  to Havana, Cuba but was told that the Cuban government would not allow her to enter Cuba. She left Cuba with her husband in 2005, and has not seen her mother since then, and was trying to visit her.

Regis Iglesias, a former prisoner of conscience and member of the Christian Liberation Movement, who was banished to Spain in 2010, was denied the right to return to Cuba on January 1, 2020 to spend time with his family and friends, despite having his passport and travel documents in order. Regis also denounced the “complicit practice of American Airlines as a direct executor of such violations of individual law, by abiding by and enforcing the arbitrary, illegitimate and illegal abuses of a dictatorship against its nationals that only seek the exercise of their inalienable right to return to the land that saw them born.”

Regis Iglesias denied right to return.

Regis Iglesias denied right to return.

He is referring to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states: “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Cubans, who despite having their passports, documents, and plane tickets in order, continue to be barred at the airport from either leaving or returning to their homeland. Private airlines perform a complicit role serving as spokespersons for the dictatorship’s violation of this fundamental human right.

This has been going on for far too long, and the lack of press attention to these travesties, is a sign that this unacceptable practice has been normalized. This cannot be allowed to stand.

Democracy Digest, February 3, 2020

Cuban civil society and human rights activists are expressing concern over the fate of former political prisoner Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina. Four days ago, the freelance journalist and human rights defender “was regulated” – denied his rights to travel freely – and reports suggest he has since been detained. His family reports that the secret police say they arrested him but released him an hour later. The family knows nothing about Rolando and they fear for his life, John Suarez writes for Notes From The Cuban Exile Quarter.

“We denounce the arbitrary detention and the violation of the right to travel perpetrated against Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina (right),” said the Alianza Democrática Oriental (ADO).

“At this moment we are very worried about his disappearance,” said activist Yeris Curbelo. “The members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance and family members of Rolando are trying to get the authorities to provide information on where they are being held, but we have not had any luck.”

For the seventeenth time in six months, Cuban authorities have arrested and fined writer Jorge Olivera Castillo and human rights activist Nancy Alfaya. Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America reports.

“Again and again, Jorge and Nancy have been arrestedthreatened, and harassed relentlessly by Cuban authorities,” she observed. “In the wake of Decree 349, a 2018 regulation that gives Cuban officials broad purview to regulate the cultural sector, we have seen an immense uptick in threats against artists, writers, intellectuals, and other creatives.”

Cuba is assessed as “not free” by Freedom House, receiving an aggregate score of just 14 on a scale where 100 is most free.

The Communist regime continues to repress and punish dissent and public criticism, according to the latest World Report 2020 from Human Rights Watch. The number of short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others was lower in 2019 than in 2018, but remained high, with more than 1,800 arbitrary detentions reported through August. The government continues to use other repressive tactics against critics, including beatings, public shaming, travel restrictions, and termination of employment, the report adds.

The threats facing Cuban dissidents are portrayed in “Irene in Havana,” a short film by Lilo Villaplana that includes scenes – The Cathedral, the Paseo del Prado, the Malecon and the Cabaña – filmed clandestinely in Cuba, Suarez  adds. The script is by journalist Juan Manuel Cao, a prisoner of conscience in Cuba who at age 20 was jailed for three years for “enemy propaganda.” He spent time in the Combinado del Este, La Cabaña and Mazorra, a psychiatric facility were he was tortured.

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The Trump administration can cripple the Cubazuela axis by targeting both Cuba and Venezuela at the same time, argues Otto J. Reich, a former US Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. Since the administration already has imposed myriad sanctions on Venezuela, the best way to increase pressure on the Maduro regime is to hold its Cuban patrons accountable for their destructive role in Venezuela, he writes for The Miami Herald:

First, Cuba should be returned to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Its ongoing cooperation with, and provision of safe haven to, narco-terrorist organizations such as Colombia’s FARC and ELN,refusal to extradite most-wanted American criminals and cooperation with other terrorist nations such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, justifies this measure….

Second, the Trump administration can actively expose the abusive nature of the Castro regime’s lucrative overseas medical “missions.” Cuban defectors have testified that the program is nothing but a money-making scheme operating under the cover of humanitarianism. Today, the money earned by the regime from this scheme — approximately $10 billion annually — is by far its largest source of hard currency….

Third, the United States should curtail another immoral revenue source for the Castro regime: deal-making with foreign corporations. One example: The Obama administration allowed Cuba to renew an expired trademark registration for the confiscated Havana Club rum. The Trump administration should reverse that action and demonstrate to unscrupulous foreign companies that there are grave risks to economic deals with a regime that has stolen billions of dollars in properties from Americans and Cubans, and thus stop dishonestly enriching the Cuban government….RTWT