Por Fabian Flores (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban travel and tourism agency Havanatur is making a killing through the sale of Havana-Miami and Miami-Havana air tickets, despite the lack of information and disorganization surrounding these transactions.
For those scrambling to travel to the United States this summer, getting one’s hands on a ticket to Miami or Tampa – the only destinations offered by the airlines that cover the route – has been a veritable odyssey.
There are no alternatives one can turn to, because, much like the country’s phone company, ETECSA, Cuba’s State-run Havanatur is a monopoly and hoards the Cuban operators that work in the US market.
“The organization has been chaotic and, as with everything else in this country, there’s been no shortage of personal favors and ‘string-pulling’, a woman who identified herself as Carmen Martinez remarked, saying she had been hunting down a ticket to Miami since the beginning of June.
Several individuals interviewed by CafeFuerte reported that, following repeated calls to Havanatur offices (including the company headquarters in Celimar), they were informed that tickets for trips in the month of July would begin being sold on June 10. When they approached the agency to purchase the ticket on that date, however, they found out that, at some locales, the tickets had already been on sale for a week and, in other sale points, since the day before.
“Getting a ticket has become as difficult as getting a visa, this is a real ordeal,” said a man who preferred to remain anonymous.
The sale points operated by Havanatur in Havana are located at the Jose Marti International Airport in the municipality of Boyeros, the Miramar Business Center, the La Puntilla shopping mall, also located in Miramar, Playa, as well as at Linea and Malecon, 23 and P, and 23 and M, all in Vedado.
Of all these branches, only the one located at the airport and 23 and M offered regular services on June 10. All others operated for only two hours.
Those who stood in line outside the agency located at the intersection of 23 and M streets had to wait four and five hours to buy their tickets – and some left empty-handed. During the wait, many customers complained to CafeFuerte over the familiar “line-cutters” and about supposed acts of bribery and string-pulling with employees.
Of the four employees approached and asked about this, none wished to comment. Attempts at reaching a company official were less than fruitful.
Cubans who purchase their tickets in Havana are forced to buy round tickets with a return date one month from the date of travel (at 420 CUC), two months (at 502 CUC) or three months (572 CUC). If they do not return within that period, they lose their money. At Cuba’s exchange locales, 100 CUC is equivalent to 115 US dollars.
The high demand of tickets for destinations in the United States, particularly during summer months and New Year’s, was unleashed by the country’s recent migratory reforms (in effect since 2013) and a rise in the issuing of family and professional visas by the US Interests Section (USINT) in Havana.
The US Department of State says that in the first half of the 2014 fiscal year alone, US consular authorities have issued the record figure of 19,500 visas for family visits and professional and business trips. Of the visas issued, more than 90% were multiple-entry visas with a period of validity of 5 years, a visa category that USINT has been issuing to Cubans since the middle of last year.
The number of non-immigrant visas issued to Cubans during the first half of the 2014 fiscal year represents a 27% increase in comparison to the same period the previous year, said USINT.