As Cuba reopens to the world, many of its own seem to be leaving – CBS Miami

MIAMI (CNN) – Hours before the airline’s offices open for the day, hundreds of Cubans line up, hoping to land a hard-to-find ticket off the island.

For many Cubans, this is just the start of a long and often dangerous journey to the United States.

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During much of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuba’s borders were closed, making international travel nearly impossible.

But as the island now reopens to the outside world and Cubans face worsening food and medical shortages, the impact of tougher US economic sanctions and the government’s own crackdown in the wake of unprecedented protests July scores indicate they are preparing to leave their homeland for good.

In the midst of the crowd outside the airline’s offices in Havana’s business center, a self-proclaimed “facilitator” named Sergio, who declined to give his last name given the nature of the service he provided, offered to use his contacts to help people cut long lines in exchange for a “percentage” of the ticket price.

“Most of these people are not coming back,” Sergio told CNN, adding: “Maybe some will go to Nicaragua to buy things, but the majority emigrate.”

Their exodus is complicated because most countries require Cubans to obtain a visa. The Covid-19 only complicates their lot. To enter the United States, Cubans must have proof of vaccination with an FDA approved vaccine or vaccine that has received an emergency use list from the World Health Organization, to which most Cubans of the island do not have access.

Cuba is still in the process of certifying its local vaccines to the WHO. This means that Cubans with a visa for the United States are still not able to legally travel there without first getting vaccinated in a third country.

In November, Cuba’s close ally Nicaragua lifted its visa requirement, meaning any Cuban with the money to buy a plane ticket could travel there and potentially as far as the US border. -mexican.

The Nicaraguan government has said it is opening the door for Cubans to encourage trade, tourism and family reunification.

Critics of the socialist governments of Cuba and Nicaragua accuse them of trying to provoke a migrant crisis – like the ones that took place on the island in the 1980s and 1990s – that would leave thousands of Cubans weary of the economic instability of the island to leave.

“The Biden administration should react quickly and take this for what it is, a hostile act,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a statement.

A global odyssey
After the Nicaraguan government announced it was lifting the visa requirement, ticket prices for the Copa airline – which sells bookings from Havana to the Nicaraguan capital Managua via Panama City – soared. On Wednesday, Conviasa, Venezuela’s national airline, also an ally of Cuba, began operating direct flights from Havana to Managua.

It is not known how many Cubans will travel to Nicaragua with the ultimate goal of reaching the United States. In October – before the change was made – 5,870 Cuban migrants were arrested by US customs and border protection along the border with Mexico, the highest number in more than two years.

While still more expensive than many Cubans can afford, the route through Nicaragua will be significantly cheaper and more direct than those already taken by many leaving the island during the pandemic.

A Cuban who asked CNN to call him Miguel instead of his real name for security reasons, crossed the US border from Mexico in September to be reunited with his family in Texas.

It was an odyssey that took him almost around the globe.

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“I went to Moscow because at that time there were no direct flights to Mexico,” Miguel said. “I was in Moscow for three days. I went from there to Mexico City via Turkey. I was in Mexico City for two days, then people I know took me to Mexicali – and from there I crossed the border (to the United States), ”he said.

Other Cubans detailed similar trips on social media.

Russia is one of a handful of countries that do not require Cubans to obtain visas to travel there. Some Cubans therefore use this route to travel to other countries in Europe, with the ultimate goal of reaching the United States.

But in recent weeks, Russia has apparently started cracking down on Cubans using the visa waiver to travel to third countries.

In December, a group of 71 Cubans were refused entry to Russia and returned to the island after “failing to qualify as tourists,” according to a statement from the Cuban consulate in Moscow.

Photos posted on social media by members of the group showed them huddled and sleeping in the airport bathroom as they waited for the flight back to Cuba.

Meanwhile, Cubans are increasingly attempting the dangerous sea crossing of the Strait of Florida, which connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

The US Coast Guard banned 838 Cubans from the sea during fiscal year 2021, up from 49 from the previous fiscal year. Since October, 410 Cubans have been arrested, he said.

On Saturday, the Cuban border patrol said it had rescued 23 people and recovered the bodies of two others who had tried to leave the island in an overloaded boat.

Cuban authorities blamed the US government for increasing illegal immigration after the then Trump administration shut down visa services at the US Embassy in Havana in 2017 over still unexplained illnesses which affected American diplomats working on the island.

The Biden administration has yet to engage with Cuba on migration issues, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba’s top diplomat for US affairs, told CNN on Wednesday.

“The point is, the United States is not honoring its commitments in migration agreements,” said Fernandez de Cossío. “This reality creates problems that do not benefit either country.”

A spokesperson for the US State Department told CNN they are “committed to ensuring the safe, orderly and regular migration of Cuban citizens to the United States” and that the pandemic “is forcing” the department to take action. “Tough decisions” on how they prioritize consular services.

The spokesperson also said they were reviewing plans to increase the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and were “sensitive” to the financial and other challenges Cubans face during the Visa application.

“Lack of hope is one of the main drivers of irregular migration across the Americas, and this also includes Cuba,” the spokesperson added. “That is why we support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and respect for their human rights, as well as greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home. “

This story has been updated to correct the fact that Nicaragua waived its visa requirement in November.

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