By ANGEL CASTILLO JR. | Florida Voices
Published: December 31, 2011
It has now been 63 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
was adopted by the United Nations, in 1948. Both the United States and
Cuba ratified it, and neither has withdrawn its consent.
The declaration sets out a list of human rights that signatory countries
agree to respect. One of them, Article 13(2), states that, "Everyone has
the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his
As the Castro dictatorship celebrates 52 years in power, both Cuba and
the United States are embroiled in domestic controversies over the right
to leave and return to one's own country without having to ask for
The Castro brothers — Fidel, 85, and Raul, 80 — have exercised rigid
control since 1959 over Cubans' ability to leave the island and return.
No Cuban can leave, even when another country has authorized a visit,
unless Communist bureaucrats issue a permit known as "the white card."
Similarly, to travel to Cuba, Cubans living outside the island must
request an entry permit.
In August, Raul Castro announced that he was going to review and
possibly modify "the reigning migration policy." While those words
evoked hopes of liberalization, on the day before Cuba's annual
"Nochebuena" (Christmas Eve) family holiday, he threw the proverbial
bucket of cold water over those expectations. The issue is "complex," he
said, and requires further study.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the embargo commenced by President
Kennedy in 1960, after Fidel Castro "nationalized" (i.e., stole) the
properties of United States citizens and corporations in Cuba without
compensation, in violation of international law, continues to affect the
ability of United States citizens and Cubans who live in this country to
travel to Cuba. By law, all those wishing to travel to Cuba must request
U.S. government permission. Unlike the situation in Cuba, the United
States government does not attempt to totally control egress and
ingress, but it imposes burdens on the exercise of those rights when the
destination is Cuba.
Current policy regarding travel to Cuba has been criticized on many
grounds, including that it violates U.S. citizens' constitutional "right
to travel." While such a right is not found explicitly in the U.S.
Constitution (as it was in the Articles of Confederation of 1781) the
courts have found that such a right indeed exists, by implication.
Nonetheless, in decisions in 1965 and 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that travel restrictions to Cuba are valid.
I am not among those who hold the naïve belief that allowing free travel
to Cuba from the U.S. will make the Castros embrace democracy. Millions
of Canadian, European, Mexican and other tourists have traveled to Cuba
for five decades, and all they have accomplished is helping finance the
However, if Cuba and the U.S. mutually agreed to honor their promises
from 1948, everyone in both countries could at least make his or her own
free decision regarding travel in or out of Cuba. Raul Castro and Barack
Obama should include such a pledge among their New Year's resolutions.
Angel Castillo Jr., a former reporter and editor for The Miami Herald
and The New York Times, practices employment law in Miami. © Florida Voices