Repressive Machinery. Human Rights Watch, June 1999.
In a public address on April 4, 1997, President Castro urged the populace to
fight against the "indiscipline" favored by the "enemy" and
demonstrated by "illegal immigration" to Havana and announced that the
state was planning to halt such movement. He justified such actions by
explaining that free movement to the capital would endanger Cuba's security due
to the state's insufficient control and knowledge of the identities of Havana's
residents and guests. International human rights law assures the right to
liberty of movement within a country's borders and the right to enter and leave
one's country of origin. President Castro called upon the Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution (Comités para la Defensa de la Revolución,
CDRs), pro-government groups that have taken part in intimidations of government
opponents, to work with the police to gather information on Havana residents.
The president also mentioned problems with overcrowding, overbuilding, and crime
that had resulted from increased population pressures in Havana. On April 22,
1997, President Castro signed Decree 217, creating internal migratory
regulations for Havana.
Decree 217 explains restrictions on internal movement as being due to public
health, welfare, and public order concerns. While these issues in some
circumstances justify narrowly-tailored restrictions on movement,
PresidentCastro's prior statements highlighting the government's interest in
minimizing "indiscipline" and maintaining tight control over citizens'
movement for security reasons call into question the government's motivation in
creating Decree 217. By late April 1997, the Cuban press announced that more
than 1,600 "illegal residents" of Havana had been returned to their
home provinces "using persuasive methods." By mid-May, many more
Havana residents had received government notices that they had forty-eight hours
to regularize their status in the city or face fines and the "obligation to
return immediately to their place of origin." The government's provision of
an extremely brief period for Havana residents to demonstrate the legitimacy of
their presence in the capital raised additional concerns about whether the Cuban
authorities were ensuring sufficient due process guarantees. By June 1998, the
Cuban government reported that some 27,717 people had left Havana since the law
took effect, although not necessarily due to its application, while 22,560
others had moved to Havana, resulting in a net population decrease of over 5,000
residents. While diplomats noted that the law had not resulted in massive
round-ups and deportations, Cuban migrants to Havana expressed frustration that
they could not choose where to live and that police demands for their personal
papers and proof of "legal" residency had increased.