Havana, Off Limits to Easterners
Could it be illegal for a French person to be in Paris, an English person in London, or a Spaniard in Madrid? The answer seems obvious and the question stupid. But if the question is whether it can be illegal for a person from Santiago, or Las Tunas, or Guantanamo to be in the City of Havana, the answer is yes, it is possible. Because Cuba is the land of the absurd, and its capital is the mother of illegalities.
It may be presumptuous, but we ought to call attention to the frustrated lives, impossible dreams and repressed desires of those born in Cuba, an island of little significance on the world map. Especially in these times, when humanity lives plagued by troubles of all kinds.
But in Cuba there are thousands of stories that deserve to be told. Voices silenced by the spectre of a government that hides the truth, so no one will recognize that the political, economic, and social system imposed on its citizens for more than fifty years is a complete failure. Let’s review one such story.
Eleven o’clock p.m., December 22, 2009. The citizen Ibrahim Alayo Meriño appears before Lt. José García Brón, the acting officer in charge of the Capri police unit, in the Havana district of Arroyo Naranjo. After identifying himself, he has to sign the detention order.
Alaya is a young black man, 36 years old. His identification card says he is a native of Havana, but really he is a resident of Rural Route 140, between 20th and 22nd Streets, in Santiago de Cuba. Ibrahim knows it’s pointless to explain why he is in the capital. The law declares it illegal, and therefore he should be arrested and deported to his place of residence.
Thus it is commanded by Legal Decree 217 of April 22, 1997, titled “Internal Migration Regulations for the City of Havana.” This provision prohibits Cubans from other parts of the country to reside, become domiciled, or permanently live in the capital without permission.
The problem of emigration from the countryside to the city began to intensify in Cuba in the 1980’s. “Havana Can’t Take Any More,” goes the refrain from one of the hit songs of Los Van Van, the No. 1 pop music group on the island. Those from the eastern areas of the county are even called “Palestinians” in the capital.
They looked for the easiest solution to the problem of domestic migration: prohibit and punish it. The Cuban government, by enforcing the Legal Decree, limited the human and constitutional rights of all citizens not residing in the capital. Supposedly to ensure the Havanans’ right to health.
Ibrahim’s story is very simple. Nobody can imagine how far-reaching the tentacles of a legal decree are, when widely applied by each and every one of the bodies and institutions of the state.
The standard also applies to Havanans, residents of other districts in the capital who, without the appropriate license, are living in a house located in the district of Old Havana, Central Havana, Cerro, or Tenth of October.
And they have even gone as far as to fine for being illegal a citizen who has a recognized address in one Havana district, but resides in another, although the latter is not classified as a “frozen zone”.
This is a major contradiction to the Constitution of the Republic, which in Article 43 recognizes that Cubans can “live in any area or sector.” A right that, according to the precept, was “achieved by the Revolution.” They must have figured that if the Revolution gives it to you, the Revolution also has the power to restrict it or take it away.
Nor does it matter whether the violation of one right results in the infringement of others. Workplaces do not hire, schools do not enroll, and pharmacies do not dispense the medications regulated by card, if the citizen, child or adult, does not have an authorized address.
Law enforcement agencies, municipal housing addresses and address registry offices, are responsible for implementing the letter of the law. Some citizens have been fined multiple times for being “illegal”.
However, the law does not apply to everyone equally. Some 99.9 percent of the members of the police agencies are from the eastern regions of the country. The government allows them to reside in the capital, even though they don’t have a legally recognized domicile.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to move freely and to choose his or her residence within the territory of a state.” The Cuban government says it defends human rights. But it prohibits citizens from exercising their rights, and punishes those who dare to do so.
Can a state limit the human capacities of one group of the governed, supposedly to ensure the rights of others? Don’t all enjoy the same rights and aren’t equal before the law?
The Universal Declaration is clear about this. No provision can be interpreted as authorizing any state to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at suppressing any of the rights and freedoms proclaimed in it.
A government is hypocritical that criticizes the European Union and the United States for taking measures to control the flow of immigrants from other nations, yet punishes with fines and deportation a Cuban who stays in the capital without its permission.
The story of Ibrahim Alayo Merino is just one example of the thousands of Cubans who daily suffer within their own country. Since 1997 a decree has been in force that violates the rights of nearly 12 million people. No court or authority has dared to declare it unconstitutional.
Four years ago Ibrahim moved to Santiago de Cuba, where his new family lives. He traveled to Havana to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day with his parents, who live in the capital. But the officials did not care about this and felt he had disobeyed the law. So he slept in a jail cell and was deported the following morning.
Some of the voices are silent and their stories have not been told. But they are there. Citizens defenseless before the abuses of power of a government that has not only converted the capital of all Cubans into a forbidden city for many, but also into a nest of illegality.
The government has a unique way of applying the laws. Closing Havana behind a wall is one of those methods. Although all are not equal before Cuban justice. The Castro brothers are also Easterners, but it hasn’t occurred to anyone that they are illegal.
Translated by: Tomás A.