My Mom’s Interview at the US Interests Section in Havana

Luis Rondon Paz

The US Interests Section in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — There are things I really don’t understand about the US government. They claim the “Castro regime” has indoctrinated the Cuban people, that the most fundamental human rights are constantly being trampled and so on and so forth.

When it comes to immigration and tightening the screws in this connection, however, it seems to me they take the cake. When they deny someone in a delicate state of health a visa, for instance, alleging that there is a strong risk that person will become an illegal immigrant, it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

A year ago, my sister booked an appointment for my mother at the US Interests Section in Havana. The interview was scheduled for February 24, 2014 at 8 in the morning.

Everything had already been planned. My sister was very excited about the prospect of having her mother visit her. “This time around, they’ll say yes,” she thought. “I’ll be able to give her the comforts she can’t have in Cuba: a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, vitamins and cutting-edge medication, etc.”

When I read the letters my sister wrote, this excitement took hold of me also. “It would be marvelous – she will recover more quickly,” I thought. Unfortunately, I am barely able to buy basic things with what I earn. It’s difficult to get my hands on a variety of quality fruits and vegetables that I can afford.

Incidentally, the new regulations implemented in Cuba have not lowered prices but raised them – at least, this is what I see in the “parallel” market.

We put together everything the day before: the 160 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) for the interview, the wheelchair and a bit of extra cash to pay for the cab from the outlying town of Santiago de Las Vegas to the US Interests Section located in Vedado, Havana.

We arrived there at around 7 in the morning. They were already calling the people in line who had appointments for 8 in the morning. The long line of people waiting outside the nearby Calzada and K St. funeral parlor could be seen in the distance. “So many people want to leave,” I said to myself.

“Luisito, ask that gentleman over there if they’ve already called in the people with appointments for 8,” the man who had driven us there said bluntly, pointing to a man dressed in white and blue, standing at one of busiest spots there.

The man was holding a considerable number of IDs. It was obvious he worked at the Interests Section. That is what I thought as I approached him.

The man was so busy organizing the IDs that he completely ignored me. I thought of protesting, but I decided not to a few seconds later. I crossed the street towards the park in front of the funeral parlor to ask the other officer the same question.

This man was a bit kinder and told us to wait at the park corner, so as to go in at 8. I explained that my mother was in a delicate state of health and couldn’t be made to wait in line so long. He understood and, five minutes later, we were already at the entrance to the Interests Section, waiting to go in and have the blessed interview.

I didn’t like the place. I felt a kind of uneasiness, a strange misgiving about it, I don’t know.

At the entrance, however, they treated us wonderfully: kindly and courteously. They even prioritized my mother, because of her condition.

Everything was fine up to that point, until the official at booth number 5 asked several questions and said:

“I’m very sorry, but you don’t qualify for this type of visa.”

That was the second time the US Interests Section denied my mother a visa to travel to the United States. My mother could only say: “I’m going to die before I get a chance to see my daughter.” The words broke my heart, but I couldn’t let them see my anger. So I placed my hands on the wheelchair and pushed my mother out of that hell.

19 thoughts on “My Mom’s Interview at the US Interests Section in Havana

  • Sheyla, we should all get together and fight this policy of denying non-immigrant visa applications for elder Cubans. We are going through the exact same thing with my husband’s mother. If our mothers were French or Swedish, they wouldn’t even have to apply for a visa! This is discriminatory treatment. It’s inhumane. It’s tearing our families apart. I’m so sorry for you because I know how you feel.

  • Luis, the same thing is happening to us. We have applied three times to get a non-immigrant visa to bring my husband’s elderly mother here for a temporary visit, and the US Interest Section denies our application every time because they say Mami is an “immigration risk.” Our hearts are broken. This has been going on for almost four years. She has no intention of staying here! She only wants to see her son, daughter and granddaughter one last time. She has another daughter and grandson in Cuba — she would never leave them permanently. We can’t go to Cuba because my husband was persecuted there. Besides, we shouldn’t have to! We are US citizens, and we are being treated inhumanely by our own government. I have contacted our congressman’s office for help, and I also filed a claim with the ACLU. We are trying to follow the law, and this is what we get? Who’s the oppressor now?

  • You are right Moses and I told him to make sure he said that it was a tourist visa and not a permanent exit visa but he can write whatever he wants and everyone is entitle to their opinion. I just wanted to clarify to you that I did the right thing since you were accusing me of not doing the right documents… I have been back several times, I just want her to be able to see my world for a change and have the experience of visiting the US. Thanks for your wishes!

  • You are right about not knowing about a sick mother. Nonetheless, when your brother chose to write a post about your mother´s situation, he tacitly invites commenters to judge. We may not know all the facts but based on what he wrote and what I know about US immigration policy, I believe I am correct. I wish you and your family the best in your efforts to leave Cuba.

  • My brother didn’t fail to apply for the wrong type of visa. I have applied twice for a tourist visa for my mother… I have been a US citizen since 2005 and I think that the system is screw up and don’t see a reason why I can’t have my mom visit me for a month and being able to eat a decent diet to recover faster from cancer treatment. It’s very easy to judge and point fingers Mr. Moses but you are not in our shoes. You don’t know what is like to have your mom go through cancer treatment twice and not being able to be with her and provide the diet necessary for a quick recovery. Hope that clarify your judgmental argument!

  • John, Cuba does not lack “the proper food and other things” because of the embargo. Food especially in not an embargoed item. No country allows unlimited emigration without controls. The US allows more than most. See Griffin’s comment for the details.

  • Your opinions are at odds with the facts.

    44,000 Cuban migrants arrived in the United States in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the highest total since 1994 and 10 percent higher than the estimated 40,000 arrivals in the previous year.

    24,727 Cubans arrived with U.S. visas or permits as migrants, refugees or parolees in FY13, compared to 26,720 in FY12.

    29,927 Cubans received U.S. visitor visas during FY13, compared to 14,362 in FY12.

    Therefore, as you can see by the facts, Cuban migration to the US is increasing dramatically.

    No country in the world allows all would-be visitors and immigrants to enter without limits or restrictions. Yet, the US still accepts more immigrants than any other country in the world.

    The immigrant population of the US in 2011—estimated at 40.4 million—is a historical numeric high for the country, and it is also the largest in the world. About 20 percent of all international migrants reside in the United States, which accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population.

  • Ask any Cuban wanting to go to the US how tortuous it is to watch TV Marti for a few hours in exchange for a chance to go to the US. Besides, when they get to the US, TV Marti is what most Cubans watch to find out what is going on in Cuba. Your perspective is too anti-US biased to understand that most Cubans know BS when they hear it. When TV Marti “se habla mierda” Cubans know it. Otherwise its good for chisme. The dirty little secret about USINT (i’ve been there a few times myself) is that ALL visa requests are basically treated as inmigrant visas.

  • You have made no secret of the fact that you wish the Cuban people to suffer by continuing the embargo .
    The bottle neck created by the USINTS on Cubans wishing to emigrate legally is part of the plan to force these rejected by USINTS to take to rafts and other unsafe ways to get to Florida where the “Wet foot-dry-foot) clause allows them automatic entrance to the U.S.

    You feel so bad for the poor U.S. officials who have to process all this paperwork and not one iota about Cuban people like the sick old woman in the article.
    Yes Moses, it is the fault of the U.S. that this woman is in the predicament she is .
    Without the U.S. economic war on all the people of Cuba she would have had the proper food and other things she needs .
    Without the deliberate hold-up at the USINTS , she would have been in the U.S. now .
    You cannot be that stupid that you actually believe that what you wrote will appear to intelligent readers as anything but the lamest of apologist rhetoric for the inhumane U.S. foreign policy being followed given that you are a rabid follower and promoter of that foreign policy. .
    Then again…..
    It is what you always prop

  • Luis’ mother is not an immigrant. She is a nonimmigrant. She was asking for a B-2 visa. I’ve been in the USINT. People are forced to sit in front of giant TV screens blasting TV Marti and other Anti-Cuba propaganda at them while they wait for hours. I’ve never seen another embassy like that one.

  • The intent was not to seem flippant. Rather, it is to prove the point that despite the comments from anti-US zealots to the contrary, the US remains the destination of choice for most immigrants from around the world. The US is inundated with visa requests each year and combined with a bloated and inefficient immigration policy, it should come as no surprise that there will be disappointments for some. I do empathize with this writer’s predicament but the tone of his post implies that the US is somehow at fault for his mother’s rejection.

  • Welcome to reality dear Cubans! They just don’t understand that yumas don’t want to to see another Cuban in US, they want a lot of Americans in Cuba! That’s what talk of democracy is about. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • Oh, come on Moses, you know as well as anybody, whether right or left wing, with an interest in Cuban affairs that the US outrageously manipulates immigration from Cuba.

    If this poor, unfortunate woman had illegally crossed the ocean to Miami and stepped foot on US soil she would have been welcomed with citizenship. Had she drowned in the crossing she would have been used as anti-communist propaganda.

    Were she a Cuban doctor doing work in a poor country the US government would be pursuing her with a cash offer to dump Cuba and go to the USA in a flurry of coverage about her anti-communist defection.

    Her problem is that she tried to travel legally and the US government has no use for her.

    The “privilege of receiving a US visa”! Since when was human dignity a privilage?

  • That’s a rather flippant response more appropriate for a disgruntled bureaucrat. Moses, you could at least TRY to empathize with the author here. I’m pretty sure most people who are rejected for an immigration visa don’t think about all those statistics you recounted. They are disappointed and heartbroken that even after so much waiting, so much time and money wasted, they are still stuck in a precarious situation. It sounds like Luis was writing from the heart, and the result of his mother not “qualifying for this type of visa” doesn’t necessarily mean they filled out the wrong paperwork. That excuse is often used as a default without any real explanation. Luis did after all mention that it was their second try.

  • The immigrant population in the US as of 2011—estimated at 40.4 million—was a historical numeric high for the country, and it is also the largest in the world. About 20 percent of all international migrants reside in the United States, which accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population. Almost 3 percent of immigrants to the US are from Cuba alone. The US issued more than 26,000 visas to Cubans last year. Our agreement with Cuba is for 20,000 visas per year. More than 150,000 Cubans applied for a US visa in 2013 with 100,000 Cubans paying all the required fees, completing all the forms correctly and ultimately receiving an interview. Given there are less than 2,000 work hours in any given year, the math is simple. The USINT must interview at least 5 Cubans every hour of every workday all year long. Can you imagine the workload this imposes on that office? It sounds like Luis, the writer of the post, failed to understand the privilege of receiving a US visa and likely failed to apply for the appropriate type of visa.

  • This experience, sadly, does not surprise me. My daughter-in-law is Nicaraguan and lives in the UK. The cheapest way of going to see her family is via Houston or Miamai. Until she eventually got a UK passport, she couldn’t do that as the US consulate in London would not give her a visa, on the same basis as described in this blog. As a result, I found that many L Americans who live in Europe, and need to transit through the US to go home, can’t do so. And of course you have to pay the visa charge (and even book your air ticket) before you get rejected.

  • Not only the interest section in Cuba, I’ve seen a few US embassies around the world and in most cases I get the same feeling. They usually are like mini fortresses that seldom merge well with the surrounding architecture and the contrast, gives an overall impression of veiled menace.

  • the US interest section is not a nice place.

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