Cuban-Americans warned of passport confiscation and other risks of Cuba visits
HAVANA, Cuba – The US Embassy in Havana has warned Cuban-Americans planning to visit the island that the Cuban government could seize their US passports, or even draft their children into the military.
According to a statement on the embassy’s official web page, the Cuban government “does not recognize the US nationality of US citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents.”
The statement adds that those people “will be treated solely as Cuban citizens” and that the Cuban government also can demand that they enter the island using their Cuban passports instead of their US documents.
Such visitors may also “be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service,” the Embassy added.
Cuba has a mandatory military service system, in which everyone is required to serve 14 to 24 months when they turn 16.
The undated statement, posted on the Embassy’s web page, also noted that “there have been cases of Cuban-American dual nationals being forced by the Cuban government to surrender their US passports.”
William Cocks, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the US Department of State, told El Nuevo Herald that the travel warning is not new and that the information has been posted on a State Department website page since October 2015.
Embassies often use the same information, and travel warnings are issued on a regular basis, Cocks said.
The concerns triggered by the statement, which has been making the rounds on social media platforms in recent days, come at a time when US travel to the island, especially by Cuban Americans, is growing quickly because of the Obama administration’s new policy of “engagement,” which promotes trips to the island as an essential part of improving bilateral relations.
About 390,000 US citizens of Cuban background visited the island in 2015. The Cuban Ministry of Tourism reported that 116,000 Cuban Americans and 94,000 US citizens visited in just the first four months of this year alone.
In Cuba Today describes Havana’s decision to treat some Cuban-Americans as Cubans as “paradoxical” because the communist Caribbean island’s constitution, in Article 32, says that “dual citizenship will not be allowed. In consequence, when a foreign citizenship is acquired, the Cuban one will be lost.”
That means Cubans who have become US citizens legally lost their Cuban citizenship and should be able to use their US passports when they return to the island — a long-standing demand by Cuban Americans.
Equally puzzling is the Embassy’s warning that the US-born children of Cuban parents may also be treated as Cuban citizens if they visit the island.
Cuba currently allows them to visit using their US passports and Cuban entry visas, but may risk arbitrary decisions by the Cuban government, the diplomatic mission indicated.
Grisel Ybarra, a Cuban-American lawyer who specializes in immigration cases, told In Cuba Today that the Cuban constitution is similar to some European constitutions because it awards citizenship based on parental as well as geographical factors. Foreigners also can become naturalized Cuban citizens.
Article 29 says Cuban citizens are those “born abroad of a Cuban father or mother, as long as the legal requirements are met,” as well as “those born outside the national territory, of Cuban fathers or mothers who have lost their Cuban citizenship, as long as they request it (the Cuban citizenship) in the manner required by law.”
Although most Cuban Americans do not undertake the requirements for their children to retain or obtain Cuban citizenship, Ybarra added, that does not rule out the possibility that authorities on the island could consider the children to be Cuban citizens.
In another about-turn, Cuban-Americans are not always considered to be Cuban citizens. When it comes to medical treatment, the embassy statement added, Cuban Americans cannot go to the free public hospitals used by Cubans living on the island. Instead, they are required to seek treatment in clinics reserved for foreigners, where they pay high prices.
The embassy also warns that dual US and Cuban citizens “should be especially wary of any attempt by Cuban authorities to compel them to sign ‘repatriation’ documents.
“In several instances, the Government of Cuba has seized the US passport of dual nationals signing declarations of repatriation and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States,” the statement said.
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