Hundreds of angry Cubans gathered in front of Ecuador’s embassy in Havana on Friday in an unusual public display of discontent. They said they were frustrated by Ecuador’s new rule that Cubans need a visa to visit — a move that complicates both legitimate travel and efforts to reach the United States.
The lack of a visa requirement for Cubans made Ecuador a favored destination for those seeking a vacation or job abroad, as well as those who leave the island and make the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) overland route to the United States, where they can receive automatic legal residency.
Many people lined up early in hope of getting a visa, which will be required for travel as of Tuesday. But diplomats told the crowd by loudspeaker that they would have to apply for a visa via a government website. Most Cubans have almost no internet access.
A sort of impromptu protest broke out, with many in the crowd chanting “Visa! Visa!”
Police blocked off the area around the embassy in Havana’s Miramar district and by late morning, the crowd began to dwindle to at most about 200.
Ecuador announced the visa requirement on Thursday as part of an effort to stem a flow of migrants using Ecuador as a transit country to reach other nations without permission.
“We do not close the door to Cuba,” but Ecuador is committed to efforts by the Latin American community to prevent migration without authorization, Deputy Foreign Minister Xavier Lasso said in making the announcement.
Latin American officials held a weekend meeting in El Salvador to discuss the plight of 3,000 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who are stranded at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which has balked at allowing them to cross its territory.
Many Cubans fear that the normalization of relations with the U.S. will bring an end to Cold War-era special immigration privileges that give U.S. residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.