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US: A Positive Step on Travel to Cuba

Obama, Congress Should Eliminate All Travel Restrictions


The US Congress took a positive step in the nation's new budget toward dismantling the harsh travel restrictions that cause the forced separation of Cuban families, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 10, 2009, the Senate approved a budget that would cut off all funds for enforcing the tightened travel restrictions imposed on Cuban-Americans by President Bush in 2004. Under those rules, individuals are limited to visiting relatives in Cuba once every three years and only if those relatives fit a narrow definition of family, which excludes aunts, uncles and cousins. President Obama is expected to sign the bill later this week.

"Cutting off funding for these cruel restrictions is a step in the right direction," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "But it's hardly permanent. President Obama should follow up by issuing an executive order to eliminate all restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban-Americans."

A report by Human Rights Watch, "Families Torn Apart," documented the terrible human cost of these restrictions and found that they infringed upon the internationally recognized right to freedom of movement, as well as violated the international prohibition on the involuntary separation of families.

While the bill prevents the use of any funds to "administer, implement, or enforce" the 2004 restrictions, it will apply only to the 2009 fiscal year. Any breach of the restrictions by Cuban-Americans will still be considered a violation of US law.

"Even the pre-2004 travel restrictions on Cuban families exact a considerable toll, such as tearing children away from their parents and preventing adults from caring for ailing relatives," Vivanco said. "They should be taken off the books altogether."

Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in February, known as Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, would restore full travel to Cuba for Cuban-Americans and Americans alike, without restrictions.

"The limits on travel to Cuba have failed completely to bring change to Cuba," said Vivanco. "By lifting them, the US can begin to move away from its unilateral policy and engage with its allies in a more effective, targeted approach."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.