Cubans heartbroken as US suspends issuing of visas in Havana

HAVANA, 30 Sept 2017: 

Cubans said they were both heartbroken and enraged by the US’ decision yesterday to stop processing visas at its embassy in Havana that would further tear at the seams of families already divided by the Florida Straits.

The US said it was cutting its diplomatic presence in Cuba by more than a half because of mysterious “attacks” against its embassy personnel and was therefore halting regular visa operations.

“To think you can’t go see your family is a terrible thing,” said pensioner Xiomara Irene Louzado, 74, who had been planning a visit to the US to see her sister and nephews.

Louzado said she also wanted to visit the graves of her sister and mother. She has travelled there regularly but now she simply no longer knew when she next could.

“This is unnecessary and inhuman,” said Laura Hernandez, a Cuban student who had been hoping to move to live with her father in the US. “With so many families to reunify… why?”

While Cuba numbers a population of 11.2 million, there are an estimated two million Cuban Americans in the United States.

It remains unclear which visas the US Havana embassy will still be processing and what other recourse Cubans will have.

“We have suspended most visa processing in Havana,” a notice on its website read. “Cuban applicants for non immigrant visas may apply at another US embassy or consulate overseas.”

The US has one specific deal with its former Cold War foe to issue 20,000 visas a year to Cubans seeking to emigrate there, agreed after the 1994 rafter exodus to prevent them from taking to the sea illegally in makeshift crafts.

Short of an effective third country workaround for those visa applications, yesterday’s measure would likely ensure it violates that agreement, said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.

The Cuban government has denied any involvement in the alleged attacks on diplomats in Havana and warned the Trump administration against politicising them.

The State Department said 21 US embassy employees in Cuba have been injured and reported symptoms – such as hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.

Several Canadian diplomats have complained of similar symptoms to their American counterparts but Canada yesterday said it had no plans to reduce staff at its embassy in Havana.

Many Cubans said they felt they were once more collateral damage of the war between the anti-Castro lobby in the US and Cuba.

US president Donald Trump, a Republican, had in June said he wanted to partially roll back the detente agreed with Cuba under his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama.

“Politics always ends up affecting the poorest, the people, and not the government,” said Jessica Aguila, 38, an office employee who had been planning to visit her family at Christmas.

“In a few months, all the advances between the two countries have been turned to dust.”

Washington also yesterday warned US citizens against visiting the Caribbean island, a move that will likely hurt many Cubans working in hospitality.

That sector is one of the few that had been thriving amidst a gloomy economic outlook, although it took a beating earlier this month from Hurricane Irma that wrought havoc on much of the island’s infrastructure.

“(Trump) is already an imminent danger for us, said Magdalena Hernandez, 67, “worse than a Category 5 hurricane.”

– Reuters

Leave a Reply