Social Issues

Havana park becomes campground for Cubans seeking Panamanian visas

Havana, Mar 12 (EFE).- Tania has spent the last five nights outside the Panamanian Embassy in Cuba’s capital waiting her turn to apply for the visas she needs to travel to Nicaragua via Panama with her young daughter.

The 29-year-old was one of the more than 100 people camped out in Havana’s Miramar park when dawn broke on Saturday, four days after Panama announced that effective March 13, Cubans would need transit visas for travel via the Central American nation.

As Tania talks to Efe, a Panamanian consular officials walks by calling out numbers: 22, 23, 24 – attesting to a level of organization conspicuous for its absence earlier this week.

By early Saturday, the embassy had attended to all of the people with flights booked on April 1 and was beginning to process the applicants with April 2 departures.

Panama joined neighbors Costa Rica and Colombia in imposing a visa requirement on Cubans amid a surge in the numbers of people trying to reach the United States via Central America since last November, when Nicaragua established visa-free entry for travelers from Cuba.

News of the requirement spurred a protest outside the embassy in Havana and Panamanian authorities offered a small concession, delaying the effective date to March 16.

But Cubans who had tickets on flights during the March 16-31 period are being forced to postpone their travel by as much as three months.

And those people will also have to reschedule their connecting flights out of Panama, at additional expense.

Travelers must apply for a visa at least 15 days ahead of their trip and the fee is $50, roughly twice the median monthly wage in Cuba.

The transit document is good only for 24 hours and the holder must not venture out of the international terminal at Panama Tocumen International Airport.

“They (Panama-based Copa Airlines) are issuing tickets for May and June,” a Havana resident identifying herself only as Carmen told Efe.

While many of the travelers are would-be migrants, Carmen, 46, said that she is bound for Managua to buy goods for re-sale in Cuba.

The main driver of emigration from Cuba at the moment is an economy plagued by inflation and shortages and struggling to recover from the loss of tourism revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

US immigration authorities said that they detained 9,827 undocumented Cuban migrants in January, 13 times the number intercepted in January 2020.

So far this year, more than 1,000 Cubans have been repatriated to Cuba from the US, Mexico, and the Bahamas, a number equal to 43 percent of the total for all of 2021.

Cuba’s government blames the United States for undocumented immigration, pointing to Washington’s reneging on accords that called for the US Embassy in Havana to issue 20,000 visas a year to Cubans.

In 2017, then-President Donald Trump closed the US consulate in Havana as part of his repudiation of predecessor Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. EFE jpm/dr

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