After several hours in migratory limbo, Cuban journalist Karla María Perez was welcomed as a refugee by Costa Rica. The Government of the Central American country granted her the right to apply for this status after she was forced on the night of March 18 to make an unexpected return trip to San Jose from Panama.
Perez had arrived in Panama in transit to Cuba on Thursday. Then an unidentified Cuban immigration agent notified Copa airlines that the journalist was not allowed to enter her own country.
Karla Perez is from Cienfuegos, a Cuban citizen. She found herself unable to continue on to Havana, nor stay in Panama and without permission to reenter Costa Rica.
She studied for four years in Costa Rica after being expelled from University in Santa Clara, Cuba for posting on the blog of an opposition organization. After graduating she was returning home on March 18th.
Now 22-years-old, Perez was left in the midst of total uncertainty for hours, stranded, unable to legally enter any country. Technically stateless.
“Karla has not only been violated in her right to education and discriminated against before for political reasons in Cuba, but now her freedom of movement is limited,” explained lawyer Eloy Viera in a direct transmission from elTOQUE on the subject.
This outrageous situation provoked expressions of solidarity between Cuban colleagues and international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, whose Executive Director for the Americas, Jose Miguel Vivanco, thanked “the Costa Rican authorities for protecting the rights” of the Cuban journalist.
The regional representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Alberto Brunori, commented that his office is attending and accompanying the case.
When Karla was still at the Panama airport, an activist and four Cuban journalists went in person to the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Havana. Gilberto Mazola, the MINREX public relations chief, received Maykel González Vivero, director of Tremenda Nota.
“He was very nice,” the journalist commented after his meeting with Mazola. He recognized the irregularities that have occurred in the past to Karla Pérez (…). The functionary promised us to respond to this incident and to also communicate Karla’s situation to the Cuban embassy in Panama.”
However, in a video press release, Yaira Jimenez Roig, director of Communications of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, took a different attitude. She referred to a “media show”, in which the group of people who went to its headquarters were “using a Cuban emigrant.” Jimenez said the young journalist is “linked to plans and representatives” permanently accused of attempting a “soft coup” against the Cuban government. The spokesperson said, “the close ties (of Karla Perez) with her mentor Eliecer Avila, and others figures, are known.”
“She is an instrument,” says Jimenez. “It is not the first time that she has been used (…). Now they intended to reinsert her into the country for subversive purposes.”
This is not an isolated case. The Cuban government has systematically used the prohibition of entry or exit from the country and the limitation of movement, as an unofficial sanction mechanism for political reasons. They routinely use the argument of an alleged threat to national security.
Even though the Cuban Constitution approved in 2019 recognizes the right to freedom of movement, the Migration Law, in its article 24.1, regulates reasons by which the Cuban authorities can prevent the entry into the national territory of “any person”, including their nationals. Among these reasons, national security reasons stand out; participating in hostile actions against the political foundations of the Cuban State; being declared undesirable, etc., Eloy Viera explains.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter their own country. Cuba signed it in 2008, but never ratified it. So, it happens, says the lawyer, that Cuba can argue that it has no international commitment in this regard.
Cuban journalist Karla Perez has been subjected to forced exile. She intended to return to Cuba and reunite with her family after four years. The restriction of entry into the country has functioned as a de facto banishment. Therefore, the legal solution to her case – to become a refugee – has been imposed on her.