HomeTravelsDoors close quickly for Cubans wishing to travel

Doors close quickly for Cubans wishing to travel

HAVANA, June 17 (Reuters) – Cuban Miguel Palenzuela, 52, and his wife Ania have been waiting for a month outside the Colombian embassy in Havana hoping to get a visa to travel through the southern nation -American.

Palenzuela, who commutes almost daily from Guanabacoa outside the capital, says he would prefer an appointment, but the website crashes. Other embassies are as bad or worse, he says.

“There are too many barriers,” Palenzuela says, sheltering from the Caribbean summer sun under a mango tree. “It’s like they don’t want us Cubans to travel.”

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Colombia’s embassy told Reuters its systems had been overwhelmed by the “large number” of candidates, and said the country’s upcoming presidential elections had also slowed service.

This week, Reuters spoke to nearly two dozen people queuing outside the embassies of Colombia, Mexico and Panama, countries often used as jumping off points for irregular migration north to the United States. .

The Cubans Reuters spoke to declined to give details of the reason for their trip or said they were shopping or traveling for tourism.

But all expressed frustration as diplomatic and bureaucratic bottlenecks at home and abroad mount for Cubans seeking to leave the island amid a growing economic crisis.

More than 140,000 Cubans have been encountered by authorities at the US border with Mexico since October, according to US figures, among the largest migrations out of the island in decades.

Cuba accuses the United States of priming the pump of illegal migration by maintaining a Cold War-era economic embargo while cutting consular services in Havana for Cubans.

Last week, the United States agreed to facilitate “legal avenues” for migrants at the Summit of the Americas, which excluded Cuban government officials. Washington resumed visa processing in Havana in May and aims to issue 20,000 immigrant visas to Cubans a year. Read more

It’s a crack in the door, but it’s still not enough, said Michael Bustamante of the University of Miami.

“We should welcome the long-awaited restoration of consular services at the US Embassy in Havana,” he said. “But compared to demand, 20,000…seems like a drop in the ocean.”

POLITICS BY THE SIDE

Outside the embassies of several Latin American countries in Havana, diplomatic discourse in recent months has been lost in a haze of heat, long lines and rapidly changing demands.

With options for legal migration through the United States limited, many choose to fly to Nicaragua, which in November lifted visa requirements for Cubans, and then try their luck on the risky overland route north to the American border. Read more

Soaring costs, however, have led many to seek alternative flights via Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica, among others.

A series of old and new visa requirements in these countries has caused confusion and frustration, said Yaneris Betancourt, 37, who traveled more than four hours by public transport from Matanzas, outside of Havana, for his meeting at the Panama Embassy.

Betancourt said she, too, had trouble navigating embassy websites — Cubans often only have internet access by phone with spotty coverage — and missed two flights due to delays.

And more recently, a measure by the Cuban Central Bank prompted some embassies to temporarily suspend services or charge for visas in dollars or euros, foreign currencies accessible to Cubans mainly through remittances or the black market.

“A lot of people had to drop everything because they didn’t have the strength to go on,” Betancourt said Monday as she waited in a park near the embassy with more than 75 other people.

Outside the United States Embassy in Havana, the only legal route available on the island for migration to the United States, the scene was relatively quiet.

Odanis Gonzalez sat quietly on a park bench Wednesday, waiting with her daughter to enter the embassy. She said the US decision to restart consular services on the island was the best way forward.

“We should all have the right to this path, the right one,” she said, “and not have to risk our lives.”

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Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Reuters TV; Editing by Dave Graham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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