PanamaTimes

Monday, Jun 17, 2024

As Panama tightens visa rules, Cubans brace for tough journeys

As Panama tightens visa rules, Cubans brace for tough journeys

New rule requiring Cubans to obtain a transit visa before entering Panama has sparked protests in Havana.

By the time Natalia and her family were called to enter the Panamanian embassy in Havana, they had been sleeping on the grass outside for nearly a week.

Natalia, who spoke under a pseudonym for security reasons, had travelled to the Cuban capital in early March along with her mother, aunt and cousin – a long trip from their home in the country’s eastern Las Tunas province. Once inside, they would buy a transit visa to enter Panama.

“Of course, you have to be frustrated,” Natalia told Al Jazeera. “There are so many people here, and we’ve been planning this trip for over a month.”

The journey from Las Tunas took two days and cost the family about $200, she said – a significant sum in Cuba, where the average salary is less than $50 a month. Natalia and her mother were planning to fly in April to Panama, and then to Nicaragua, from where they would begin their trek to the United States border to apply for asylum on the grounds of political persecution.

Along with Natalia and her family, more than 400 people gathered in front of Panama’s embassy in Havana on March 9, after a new visa requirement was announced that would make fleeing the island more difficult. It requires all Cubans to buy a transit visa at the embassy 15 days before entering Panama.

Panama is an important hub for passengers travelling anywhere in the Caribbean, Central and North America


The requirement was to take effect just a few days after the announcement, throwing into chaos the travel plans of many Cubans who had planned to fly out during the last two weeks of March. After angry residents flooded the embassy area, the Panamanian government slightly extended the implementation date until March 15.

Although Panamanian authorities have said the transit visa requirement would be in place for just three months, some Cubans told Al Jazeera they feared more stringent restrictions lay ahead – adding to the constantly evolving hurdles facing Cubans as they attempt to travel beyond their country’s borders.

Planning far in advance


In recent years, Panama has functioned as a middleman between Cuba and the rest of Latin America, as many countries do not offer direct flights to Havana.

“I’m going to Mexico through Panama,” a woman sitting outside the embassy told Al Jazeera in mid-March, noting that her son’s father was already living there. She had come back to Cuba to visit family and was now stuck waiting for a transit visa en route to Panama City.

Another woman waiting to enter the embassy said she had been living in Colombia for years, and was prepared to wait in the hot sun as long as necessary to facilitate her return trip through Panama: “I got here at 8am, and I heard they’ll be processing visas maybe until 9pm, so I’ll stay here all day – and then, maybe I’ll have to change the flight and come again tomorrow.”

The visa costs $50, a significant price for many Cubans, and the requirement to obtain it two weeks in advance means that Cubans coming into the capital from far-flung provinces must piece together housing in Havana for weeks. Some, like Natalia, have resorted to sleeping on the grass outside the embassy; on a recent afternoon, the area was littered with plastic water cups, blankets and dirty socks.

Experts say the new restrictions could dampen the rate of Cuban migration


The new visa requirement complicates an already expensive journey, as flights to Panama from Cuba can cost more than $1,000. Most Cubans need assistance from family abroad to save up enough for the journey, and those without financial aid must plan years in advance. They are required to purchase round-trip tickets, even if they never plan to return to Cuba.

The Panamanian government said the new visa requirement was meant to ensure “security and control”, but many Cubans protesting in the park on March 9 said they felt it was just another way to stem the flow of thousands of people leaving the island to settle elsewhere. The Costa Rican government imposed a similar transit visa restriction on Cuban nationals in February, a decision that also sparked protests.

‘We’re just tired’


In the first two months of 2022, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported encountering more than 25,000 Cubans, the vast majority at the US-Mexico border – a surge more than four times higher than the same period of 2021. The island is currently crippled by widespread food and oil shortages.

Jorge Duany, head of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, told Al Jazeera that the new restrictions could, at least temporarily, dampen the rate of Cuban migration. The new Panamanian and Costa Rican regulations “will likely lead more Cubans to follow the air route from Havana to Managua”, Duany said.

Though Nicaragua does not require Cuban nationals to obtain a visa, flights from Havana to Managua are less frequent, and demand is already sky-high.

Andres Pertierra, a Cuba historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Al Jazeera that the migration surge will continue as long as the country’s severe economic challenges persist. And if fewer Cubans are able to leave the island, the strain on food and oil supplies will only intensify.

“[The] indefinite, crisis-level scarcity is set to stay for a while,” Pertierra said. “The big trigger is that there seems to be no future there … Who wants to raise a family or build a career in that context if they can avoid it?”

Meanwhile, Natalia and her mother know they will face more obstacles on their way to the US, many of which will involve waiting in lines for hours, days or even weeks.

“We’re not anxious or excited,” she said. “We’re just tired.”


Comments

Oh ya 2 year ago
Ya its a hardship when your idea of invading the US border is a inconvenience. But i am sure they will get over it if they get to America and demand free stuff

Newsletter

Related Articles

PanamaTimes
0:00
0:00
Close
Inside El Salvador’s 40,000 Inmate Mega-Prison
Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Suzuki have committed fraud; falsified safety test results
El Salvador's Bitcoin Holdings Reach $350 Million
Teens Forming Friendships with AI Chatbots
WhatsApp Rolls Out Major Redesign
Neuralink's First Brain Implant Experiences Issue
Apple Unveils New iPad Pro with M4 Chip, Misleading AI Claims
OpenAI to Announce Google Search Competitor
Apple Apologizes for Controversial iPad Pro Ad Featuring Instrument Destruction
German politician of the AFD party, Marie-Thérèse Kaiser was just convicted & fined $6,000+
Changpeng Zhao Sentenced to Four Months in Jail
Biden Administration to Relax Marijuana Regulations
101-Year-Old Woman Mistaken for a Baby by American Airlines: Comical Mix-Up during Flight Check-in
King Charles and Camilla enjoying the Inuit voice singing performance in Canada.
New Study: Vaping May Lower Fertility in Women Trying to Get Pregnant
U.S. DOJ Seeks Three-Year Sentence for Binance Founder Changpeng Zhao
Headlines - Thursday, 23 April 2024
Illinois Woman Wins $45M Lawsuit Against Johnson & Johnson and Kenvue for Mesothelioma Linked to Baby Powder
Panama's lates news for Friday, April 19
Creative menu of a Pizza restaurant..
You can be a very successful player, but a player with character is another level!
Experience the Future of Dining: My Visit to an AI-Powered Burger Joint
Stabbing rampage terror attack in Sydney, at least four people killed, early reports that a baby was among those stabbed.
Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel overnight. Israel Reports Light Damage After Iran Launches Large Strike.
I will never get enough of his videos and the pure joy and beauty of these women!!
Scientists at the University of Maryland have developed an "invisibility cloak", for AI using adversarial patterns on a sweater, making the wearer nearly undetectable to standard object detection methods.
Lamborghini Bids Farewell to Its Best-Selling Sports Car: The Huracán
Sam Bankman-Fried Appeals 25-Year Prison Sentence for $8bn FTX Fraud
OJ Simpson, ex-NFL star who was acquitted of murder, dies aged 76
British Backpacker Imprisoned in Notorious Bolivian Prison: Family Raises Funds for Legal Fight and Essentials
Argentina: Venezuela Cuts Power to Embassy after Opposition Meeting
El Salvador Offers 5,000 Passports to Skilled Foreign Workers: Tax-Free Relocation and Citizenship
Panama Papers Trial Begins: Founders of Mossack Fonseca Face Money-Laundering Charges
75 Becomes the New 65: Retiring in Your 60s Unrealistic as Life Expectancy Increases and Costs Rise
Total Solar Eclipse of 2021: 32 Million Witness the Mystical, $1.5bn Spectacle Sweep Across North America
New shopping experience…
New world, new reality, let’s get used to it
UK Company Passes Milestone in Developing Space-Based Solar Power, Aiming to Power a Million Homes and Provide Constant Energy
Mexico Breaks Diplomatic Ties with Ecuador after Police Storm Embassy, Arrest Former Vice President
Monty Python were so ahead of their time
If there's a will, there's a way!
Rules about how to dress are important, but not so much if you have a lot of money.
Body Armor Firm Showcases Stab-Proof Vest in Demo on CEO
Mexico Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Ecuador After Embassy Stormed in Quito
Here is a tattoo idea, for engineers
Zoraya Ter Beek, a 28-year-old woman from the Netherlands, will undergo euthanasia in May due to severe mental health challenges
Here's a video featuring Fidel Castro, where he discusses his stance against war and his commitment to preserving life, positions that have put him at odds with the USA:
Woman reaches behind and steals gun from a security guard and shoots three people while getting detained in Chile
Take a walk around the safe and thriving downtown San Salvador.
Joe Biden criticised by Trump campaign for declaring Transgender Day of Visibility on Easter Sunday
×