Cubans Seeking Visas to Their Dreams

Fernando Ravsberg*

It’s now easier for Cubans to leave the country, but it’s much harder to get visas from foreign governments. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Against their own forecasts, dissidents Yoani Sanchez, Eliecer Avila and the daughter of Osvaldo Paya left Cuba – all benefiting from the new immigration reforms that opened the island’s doors after 50 years of extremely cumbersome and expensive procedures.

Even when she was told she would receive a passport, blogger Yoani Sanchez insisted that she wouldn’t believe it until she saw see it. She must be more convinced now – she’s in Brazil, where she’s begun an 80-day tour (around the world?) of ten or so countries.

Her counterparts (pro-government bloggers) initiated a volley of burlesque criticism against these trips by dissenters. In their posts, a caricature appears of Eliecer dressed like a Viking – as if visiting Sweden implies some kind of treason.

There seems to be a lack of coordination between the government authorities and their journalists. While some were handing out passports to dissidents so they could travel wherever they pleased, others were trying to ridicule them for exercising their right to leave the country.

The issue appeared in Facebook, where Lenier Gonzalez (of the Cuban Catholic church’s Epacio Laical magazine), recalled that even enemies must be dealt with ethically. Similarly, journalism professor Elaine Diaz — with very Cuban humor — wrote: “Respect for the travel of others is peace.”

There’s nothing questionable about someone who opposes official policy leaving to travel the world – I think it might even be positive. It allows them to see other societies and contextualize their own situation, which is one of the shortcomings of the Cuban opposition.

In fact, blogger Yoani Sanchez has already begun to change her lines. In Brazil she called for the ending of Washington’s economic embargo against Cuba, demanded the closure of the US military base in Guantanamo, and demanded the release of the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the US.

What I find curious is the ease and speed with which these dissidents obtained their visas compared to the obstacles now being erected by embassies against other Cuban citizens, measures that are much tougher since Havana opened the door to immigration.

It’s not that they each got visas to enter a country, but that in a single month they were granted permission to enter a dozen nations. From what I was told, this occurred at the same time many diplomats were ordered to be stricter with travel authorizations for Cubans.

Para los cubanos ahora es más fácil salir del país, sin embargo mucho más complicado es conseguir una visa. Foto: Raquel Pérez

Anyone who has gone through embassies in Havana seeking a visa recently knows that the formalities are extremely cumbersome and expensive now. Paradoxically, this is just how they were at the Cuban immigration office prior to the reforms.

Life has become more difficult since the new immigration policy was implemented. Spain now asks for proof of thousands of Euors deposited in a bank. Mexico requires a bank statement from the company where the aspiring traveler works. Ecuador doesn’t ask for a visa but it has reinvented Cuba’s old requirement of a “letter of invitation.”

Quito requires an Ecuadorian citizen to swear in front of a notary that they’ll maintain the traveler economically and must demonstrate that they are financially solvent. In addition, one can only invite a single Cuban every 12 months – so if someone wanted to welcome a Cuban couple, the islanders would have to make their visits separately and with a year in between their trips.

Frankly, all those countries that kicked up such a fuss about freedom of travel for Cubans need to go to work now so those citizens can actually exercise that right. It’s not about them denying visas to dissidents but their needing to grant ones to everyone else.

The “international community” should decree a one year grace period on all Cubans who want visas. In the area of immigration, Cuba has now opened itself up to the world. Now the only thing needed is for the world to open up to Cuba – as Pope John Paul II proposed.

Among all those nations, the US is the one with the greatest moral responsibility because it was the one that criticized Cuban immigration restrictions the most. It could set an example and give visas to all those Cuban who want to visit their relatives living in the United States.

What’s clear is that the illusions of Cubans are deflating every time they make a call to a consulate concerning requirements for obtaining a visa. For the first time they’re realizing that behind the wall that just fell is another one that’s much higher.
—–
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.


10 thoughts on “Cubans Seeking Visas to Their Dreams

  • February 24, 2013 at 11:16 pm
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    Well the opportunistic nature of Yoani’s comments is nothing new now is it? Ok it might be for some gringos granted but not for anyone who has followed her “career”. Now many Cubans who complained about the measures in place by the Cuban government at the time will get a taste of real life. I think it was a very wise move by the Cuban government in spite of having to deal with a CONTINUOS government just a few miles away bent on destroying them, a fact always conveniently forgotten.

  • February 23, 2013 at 12:23 pm
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    The Cuban adjustment act made sense back then when Cubans were in a juridic limbo after exiting Cuba. With the reforms, that gap doesn’t exist anymore, Cubans can stay up to two years outside of Cuba without losing their Cuban residence rights and that means they no longer need a fast track process to get resident rights in most countries before losing the Cuba one.

    One point that is often downplayed is that Cubans don’t need to claim prosecution of any kind to be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act. The only requirements are being a Cuban natural and have landed in US. As a result, many Cuban migrants simply wait to get their residence status in one year or so, and immediately travel to Cuba to see friends and family or simply for cheap vacations.

    This is a hole in US legislation and a gateway that bolsters a disorderly migration, forcing US to accept Cubans that are otherwise ineligible for Visas. That means that Cuban citizens with criminal records, low education and unwilling to learn the language and whose application gets automatically rejected get a free pass as long as they can make it to the border.

    This particular law does not affect the Cuban government in any measurable way, I dare to say is the opposite. They claim it to be a murderous law and opposes it in principle because of the lives lost trying to get to US land, but the truth of the matter is that it serves to get rid of undesirable elements of their society.

    If Obama expects something in return for this, he better sit comfortably because he wont get anything from the Cuban government. The law has to go because it outlived its usefulness for US interests, thats all.

  • February 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm
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    An increasing number of US politicians have been saying the changes in Cuban immigration laws, at the very least, raise the question of the Cuban Adjustment Act. If there ever was a good reason for the law, these changes do remove some of the basis. I expect some change to the US laws in the next few years, but not a lot. Obama won’t spend his political capital without something from the Cubans in return.

  • February 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm
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    Let’s get one thing straight.
    The “Wet Foot Dry Foot” clause of the Cuban Adjustment Act was purely intended to entice Cubans to risk their lives and embarrass the Cuban revolution.
    The expense and wait for legal travel through the U.S. interest Section where most are turned down to keep the numbers of those wishing to emigrate high also is meant to make Cubans attempt to enter the U.S through illegal and dangerous means.

    Were that clause extended to other poor people in the other Caribbean and Latin American countries, you would be able to walk across the sea to Florida.

  • February 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm
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    Who knows, all that comes from the notion that the Cuban government was the one and only preventing its citizens the right to travel and the shock from finding that the rest of the world is not that keen to have them. Or perhaps from equating the right to travel to the right to be received whenever you want to travel.

    Either way he is wrong and these specific demands patently absurd.

    I happen to agree with him regarding the Cuban Adjustment Act being unnecessary after the migration reforms. After all the US has a working refugee program for the cases that are actual political refugees, the rest should use the regular migration rules as the rest of the world does.

  • February 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm
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    Moses, you say, “What Cubans need to do is stay home and fix Cuba.”

    Won’t you please stop agreeing with me!

  • February 22, 2013 at 9:37 am
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    Let’s get some context, shall we? Many countries require visitors to have a visa. This is not a new or discriminatory policy aimed at Cubans. Welcome to the real world.

    It is odd to read Fernando advocating for a one-year grace period in which Cubans should be exempted from having visas. This is the same Fernando who condemned the US Cuban Adjustment Act as “that murderous law” because it somehow enticed otherwise happy Cubans to leave their socialist paradise and risk their lives in the Florida Straits. This is the same Fernando who wrote about how the new Cuban immigration laws will compel the US to drop their “wet-foot dry-foot law” for Cuban refugees. Yet now Fernando wants these laws scrapped, and in their place a free-pass for Cubans into the US.

    Where are you heading with these contradictions, Fernando?

  • February 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm
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    Good comment. However, actually she has never spoken out in support of the unilateral repatriation of the five Cuban spies. She is on record as being critical of all the resources that the Castros spend to propagandize their incarceration. She clarified all of these mistaken quotes yesterday in a speech before the Brazilian Congress.

  • February 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm
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    With few exceptions, Americans can travel the world wthout visas. Why is that? Because we make such great tourists? Well, yes and no. Normally, Americans are very demanding and rarely speak the language. We can be real pains in the butt. But we go home when our vacation is over! While we are on vacation, we spend lots of money in the local economy. The problem Cubans seeking visas face is they are percieved as tourists who arrive broke and overstay their welcome. As a result, most countries, especially these days, don’t need a wave of poor Cubans crashing the party. Unemployment in Spain is 25%. They have enough problems with north African and eastern European immigrants. The US is wrestling with major immigration reforms right now as well. Adding more Cubans to the mix right would kill the deal. The idea of a 1-year ‘get out of jail free card’ for Cubans is simply ridiculous. What Cubans need to do is stay home and fix Cuba. Take a lesson from Mexico. Ten years ago, Mexicans were illegally trying to cross the border to the US in record numbers. Last year, it is estimated that more Mexicans left the US to return to Mexico than those that tried to illegally cross the border. Why is that? Because the Mexican economy grew at more than 4% in 2011, more than twice the US economy. Fix Cuba???? How? Well, first, they have to get rid of the people who broke it.

  • February 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm
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    “In fact, blogger Yoani Sanchez has already begun to change her lines. In Brazil she called for the ending of Washington’s economic embargo against Cuba, demanded the closure of the US military base in Guantanamo, and demanded the release of the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the US.”

    Ravsberg, you’re a journalist. You should have at least checked that Yoani have always been against the sanctions and the US presence in Guantanamo and in favor of the repatriation of the jailed Cuban spies in Florida. They’re spies, no matter what you Cubans call them.

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