Tag Archives: Ecuador

Visa protest sign of new boldness in Cuba

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BBC News

As Europe’s winter approaches and many hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the continent face an uncertain future, in Havana rare street protests have been held in recent days over a separate, very different kind of immigrant crisis that’s taking place in Latin America.

It is a journey which begins in Cuba, but takes in Ecuador in the Andes and Central American nations such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

It involves political allegiances between long-standing allies and new relationships between former Cold War foes.

And, of course, it involves the immigration policies of the migrants’ ultimate destination, the US.

Late on Thursday, Ecuador’s foreign ministry announced that from 1 December Cubans would require a visa to enter the country.

For many Cubans, the news was a blow.

In fact, Ecuador was reimposing a measure it had lifted on its socialist ally in April 2014.

For 18 months, Cubans had enjoyed the freedom to travel to the South American nation without restriction.

Ecuador quickly became a popular destination for Cubans as it presented them with two important opportunities.

First, the rare chance to travel abroad to a comparatively affordable holiday destination – one where they could load up on much-needed goods and electrical items, often with the intention of reselling them on the black market back in Cuba.

Second, for thousands of Cuban immigrants it became the first step on a 5,500 km trip north to the US.

Ecuador’s decision came as around 3,000 Cubans sit stranded in Costa Rica amid a stand-off with Nicaragua.

Costa Rica is urging its Central American neighbours to grant safe passage to the Cubans, to allow a kind of “humanitarian corridor'” so they can reach the US.

But Nicaragua, led by Raul Castro’s old ally, President Daniel Ortega, is refusing to let them in and is taking what appears to be a harder line on Cubans passing through their territory on the route north.

Cuba has said the immigrants can return home but it is clear that they have no intention of abandoning their trip.

Instead, they are left in limbo on Costa Rica’s northern border.

Ecuador announced its plan to require a visa for Cubans following an emergency meeting in El Salvador – seemingly echoing Nicaragua’s tougher stance.

The Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry said they still welcomed Cubans to the country, but were committed to “efforts by the Latin American community to prevent migration without authorisation”.

Meanwhile, those Cubans who had already bought plane tickets for Ecuador were caught by surprise by the news and without visas face losing their flights and their money.

But significantly, their reaction was one not often seen in Cuba.

Anger on the streets

Rather than meekly accept the decision of the authorities, they took to the streets outside the Ecuadorean embassy to demand their visas be issued immediately.

Protests that aren’t government organised are very rare in Cuba and in this instance, police cordoned off several streets around the embassy building.

Ecuadorean diplomats used loudspeakers to address the crowd, who had started to chant for visas, insisting that they would have to apply for them online.

Given how little internet access there is in Cuba, and how difficult and expensive it is for people to get online, that was never going to placate the crowd.

At the same time, there were also queues forming outside the offices of the Copa and Avianca airline companies, as frustrated customers demanded refunds on their tickets.

Some were desperate, having spent up to $800 (£531) on their tickets, a huge sum for most Cubans.

Others were visibly angry – both at the Ecuadorean Government for taking the measure, thereby cutting off one of their few routes out of Cuba, and at the Cuban Government of Raul Castro, at whose behest they believe Quito is acting.

By Saturday, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, said that those Cubans who had bought tickets before the announcement would be issued visas for travel.

But even that wasn’t enough to send home some in the crowd, who resolutely stayed put until their individual cases were resolved.

US embargo

The US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1959 after Fidel Castro and his brother Raul led a revolution toppling US-backed President Fulgencio Batista. The Castros established a revolutionary socialist state with close ties to the Soviet Union.

The following year, the US imposed a trade embargo covering nearly all exports to Cuba. This was expanded by President Kennedy into a full economic embargo that included stringent travel restrictions.

The embargo is estimated to have cost the Cuban economy more than $1.1tn and the US economy $1.2bn a year.

In September, the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations with the country.

US businesses will now be allowed to open up locations in Cuba.

For its part, the Cuban government has consistently blamed the situation on the US and its immigration policies that favour Cubans.

Specifically the Cuban Adjustment Act and the famed “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which give Cubans who reach US soil automatic legal residency and the right to apply for citizenship.

This, the Castro Government says, is the carrot in Washington’s policy towards Cuba (the trade embargo on the island being the stick).

In fact, the number of Cubans making the vast trip from the Andes up to the US-Mexico border has risen significantly since the detente between the US and Cuba was announced on 17 December last year.

Many Cubans fear the days of their special privileges in the US are numbered and those who want to get to the US to claim residency now see it as a race against time.

With Ecuador closing one loophole and Nicaragua posting troops to its border with Costa Rica in the continuing impasse over the stranded immigrants, it certainly seems that Cuba’s allies intend to make that journey even harder.

Hundreds Gather in Cuba in Frustration at Ecuador Visa Rule

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ABC News

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.