Renewing My Residency in Cuba

Bureaucracy, Warnings and Xenophobia

By Fernando Ravsberg

Waiting at immigration at Terminal 3 of the Jose Marti Int. Airport. Photo: Raquel Pérez Díaz

HAVANA TIMES — Every 12 months for the past 26 years, I’ve had to renew my residency in Cuba, beginning with renewing my International Press Center credentials required to retain my residency and to obtain a new identification card and another year’s telephone line contract.

It is a bothersome procedure, particularly because of all the red tape involved and the mechanisms in place to make people sweat. To keep offering me Internet service, for instance, the telephone company demands that I present them with my new identity card every year.

Renewing one’s ID is one of the most complex procedures we foreigners have to go through, and it is crucial because, in order to travel abroad, one must present valid passport and residency card at the airport.

I had to renew my ID recently and the process required me to leave work three times, the first day to submit my old ID, two photos and a renewal application. Then, you must go back, from 8 am to 12 pm, to get your fingerprints taken and, lastly, return to pick up the document.

I was told to go on Tuesday and, when I arrived, there were a dozen people in line ahead of me. The “representatives” of different government entities began going in, without having to stand in line, and the officials would leave for 15 minutes at a time without offering a single explanation to those waiting.

This is the ID, the bone of contention. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

An hour and a half later, it was my turn to go in but, when I did, they told me they couldn’t find my ID card, that I should leave and wait for them to call me again. In front of the uniformed officials, I called the Press Center and complained about the situation.

“You shouldn’t complain like that,” the military official responsible for taking people’s fingerprints said to me.

“I should, because the poor work you’re doing affects me directly,” I replied.

“I’m going to call my superior,” she said in a threatening tone.

“I’d be happy to tell your “superior” the same things I’m telling you.”

In a few seconds, the “superior” had arrived with a no no-nonsense look on his face. He was around 70 and wore a dark brown uniform. He heard my complaints and I confirmed I was complaining with the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fairly angry, he said to me:

“MINREX has no power here. You’re a foreigner and you have no right to complain. This is our country and we have the right to do things as we see fit.”

“As a foreigner, I have the right to complain when I’m mistreated, be it in Havana, New York or Tokyo,” I retorted.

The “superior” thought about this for a moment and then immediately replied:

“If you have something to say, you come to me directly. You come and say to me, ‘sir, I have this or that problem.’ But you can’t do it with the employee here.”

“I’m not in the military, so I don’t have to follow any chain of command,” I replied, “let alone call you ‘sir,’ you’re not my superior.”

His expression got even sourer and he said I was being disrespectful. This surprised me, so I asked:

“What is it I said that you consider disrespectful?”

“It’s not what you said but how you said it,” the “superior” replied.

“And how exactly should one address you?” I asked.

“Look, I suggest you end this, for your own good,” he said to me, pointing a finger at me.

“Are you threatening me?”

“I’m telling you, for your own good, to put an end to this conversation.”

“What are you going to do? Throw me out of the country or put me in jail for criticizing the way you do things around here?”

“Get out of our offices, now!” He yells at me, losing it, and I obey.

Those who process the residencies of foreigners do not appear to be familiar with this phrase “Homeland is Humanity” by Jose Marti that greets us at the airport. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

I thought I’d become an illegal immigrant or that I would again be a “young man without papers,” but the International Press Center attached to MINREX intervened and solved the problem in a single day, without me having to stand in any more lines.

No “migra” in the world is characteristically sympathetic towards people but this is the government institution that deals with foreign residents in Cuba. One should expect a kinder, less bureaucratic treatment, from officials who should not address foreigners as though we were second-class citizens.

I’m a bit concerned and on edge about what could happen. We Latin Americans never take the “warnings” of a uniformed man lightly. In Cuba, one’s life is not in danger but some people know how to make your life bitter, and we run into immigration officials every time we travel and in many other official proceedings.

10 thoughts on “Renewing My Residency in Cuba

  • You’re hilarious. Thanks for the chuckle…

  • Bjmack puts these experiences of immigration bureaucracy down to the “kind of society” that exists in Cuba (see comments below). But look at the horrendous procedure that a Latino has to endure simply to get a transit visa for the United States (which are often refused, with no reason being given). Before judging Cuba, those in the US should take a look at how their own immigration service treats foreigners (even journalists – remember the case of the British journalist who was temporarily jailed in the US a few years ago for having the wrong sort of visa?).

  • Hahaha! Nice try. Even the most narrow-minded Castro bootlicker can’t blame Cuban bureaucratic inefficiency and rudeness on the US embargo.

  • It’s all the fault of the blockade!!!

  • Thanks Fernando I was wondering about this myself ‘I won’t be going to Cuba as a writer now j’ust a tourist
    Thanks again

  • There is nothing uglier than seeing an otherwise perfectly nice, respectful and rational Cuban put on a uniform. The Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll transformation is astounding.

    That said, Cuban citizens themselves get treated just as badly, if not worse, by the uniforms…

  • I sympathize with you, Fernando! To extend my stay in Cuba an extra month back in 2012 I had to get up from my bed in San Agustin before dawn, take the P-14 into the Vedado, camp out in the line in front of Emigration Office, wait ’til it opened at 8:00 a.m., wait in the line another two hours, finally meet with an official, only to be told that I wasn’t allowed to reside where I was and would have to come back when I was staying at an approved hotel or casa particular before my extension would be granted. A few days later I repeated the same process, this time with success. Essentially, I spent two days of my two month trip dealing with this. Still, it was an education! I got to experience what most Cubans have to experience on a regular basis.

  • One of the reasons I could never live in that kind of society. Cuba’s lucky to have you Fernando.

  • Most Cubans get a ‘hard-on’ when the opportunity to exercise even a little authority over another Cuban. Even more so if they can put the screws to a foreigner. After three generations of Castro tyranny, is this any wonder? A child that is reared by an abusive parent is more likely to become an abuser himself.

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