Since November 2021, Nicaragua eliminated the visa requirement for Cubans, which has unleashed a flood of travelers
HAVANA TIMES – Safety instructions could be heard on the loudspeaker as the plane accelerated on the tarmac during takeoff. Aeroméxico flight 451 was headed for Havana on Saturday with an almost empty cabin. Only a dozen people were traveling to the Island. The rest of the passengers never boarded the plane though they had paid for retsurn tickets to Cuba.
Since the Mexican airline resumed flights to Cuba, with a route from Havana to Managua that included a stop in Mexico City, most passengers have chosen not return to the island despite having a return ticket. As a result most of the seats on flights to Havana remain unoccupied.
“Notice how they’ve come around three times to give us drinks. That’s something I’ve never seen on an airplane before,” joked one mother who was traveling with her teenage daughter on a Boeing 737 on November 26. “We were able to choose our seats and there are people who’ve been sleeping the entire flight because no one is sitting next to them,” she explained.
Among those flying to the island were a couple who were prevented from traveling on to Managua. “When we got to Mexico, we realized our passports expire in December and Nicaragua requires that they be valid for at least three months,” said one of them. “We’re going back to get new documents as soon as possible so we can leave again.”
In November, Nicaragua dropped its visa requirements for Cuban nationals, unleashing a torrent of travelers from the island who use the Central American country as a port of entry to the United States. A wide network of accommodations, drivers and coyotes are part of a journey in which robberies, extortion and kidnappings are not uncommon.
The woman stated the journey from the Cuban capital to what is popularly known as “the volcano route” cost them $2,800 dollars apiece. “A contact is waiting for us in Managua. He has already helped my brother to get from there to the U.S. southern border with the United States,” a path followed by most of those onboard the Aeroméxico flight to Nicaragua.
“They told us that we have to pay again for the trip from Havana though we did manage to change the date for segment from Mexico City to Managua. The problem is that our passports expire in a month and we no longer have a place to live in Havana. We sold everything before we left,” she explains. “We’re going to stay with some relatives until we can leave again.”
Among the few passengers were a Dutchman, a Cuban man based in Chile who was going to visit relatives and a Mexican couple who wanted to spend a few days at the beaches east of Havana.
Last week 14ymedio reported that Cuban travelers with tickets on flights to Managua, with stopovers in Mexico City, were required to surrender their passports before boarding the plane to prevent them from seeking asylum or refuge in Mexico. As an additional measure they were prevented from leaving the plane during their stopover at Benito Juarez International Airport.
Back at the Havana airport, airline staff in the boarding area collect passengers’ travel documents and give them a card with a number they can use to retrieve their passports upon arrival at the final destination.
In this instance, a flight attendant confirmed the procedure. “We are forced to do this based on our experience with this type of travel,” she said. She declined, however, to clarify whether the instructions to retain passengers’ travel documents came from Mexican, Nicaraguan or Cuban authorities.
Translated by Translating Cuba