Things That Matter

Visas From Cuba Have Now Been Suspended Indefinitely

Cuban families on both sides of the Florida Straits were already on edge with last Friday’s announcement by the State Department that it was withdrawing the majority of its embassy staff from Havana and indefinitely suspending visas for Cubans applying to travel to the U.S. 

CREDIT: A corner of Vedado, a neighborhood in Havana. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza

Then, on Tuesday, the U.S. ordered two-thirds of Cuban embassy staff to leave Washington within a week.

These measures are in response to what the U.S. calls “sonic attacks” suffered by 22 U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana since fall 2016.

CREDIT: A political message located directly across from the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza

Although the State Department insists that diplomatic relations will continue with the island, and reportedly doesn’t believe the Cuban government is responsible for the attacks, these measures constitute a major re-escalation of hostility between the two nations.   

The indefinite suspension of visas for Cuban relatives of U.S. residents and citizens is a huge blow for the Cuban-American community, many of whom sponsor visits from their parents, children or siblings.

Then, on Thursday, Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald reported that the U.S. would not reimburse visa application fees—which cost $160 for tourist, business or family visas—despite the fact that it was indefinitely canceling all previously arranged embassy interviews for applicants. According to the story, the State Department has stated that although Cubans are free to apply for U.S. visas at embassies in a third country, the fees already paid cannot be transferred.

Needless to say, the cost of visa applications is already prohibitive for most Cubans, who live on an average of $25 a month. On top of that, traveling to a third country to be able to apply at a different U.S. embassy is almost impossible, as Cubans are required to obtain visas for most countries in the world.  

Cuban-born Carlos Rodríguez, who came to the U.S. in 2008 on a fiancé visa and lives in the Bay Area, helped his elderly parents in Havana apply for a non-immigrant visa to visit him in 2016, but they were denied. Cubans are rarely given an explanation for visa denials.

In fact, the rate of denial for Cubans applying for U.S. visas is the highest of all countries in the world — nearly 82 percent percent of applications were denied in 2016. Rodríguez and his parents were planning to apply again this year, but now that possibility has been shut down.

Athletes and musicians traveling to the U.S. to compete or perform will also be affected, as their visas are also processed through the embassy.

Rodríguez says, “Once again, it’s the [Cuban] people who will suffer, not the government.”

CREDIT: Cuban youth playing dice on the streets of Havana. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza

The expulsion of Cuban embassy employees from Washington also threatens to severely curb the travel of Cuban-Americans to the island. This is because of a Cuban policy requiring Cuban-born U.S. residents and citizens to travel to the island with a Cuban passport. They must obtain a passport extension every two years, which is one of the main consular services provided by the Cuban embassy in Washington. At full staff, the process can take months. With a reduced staff, there is no telling how long it will take.

A Georgia-based source, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern of repercussions from Cuban government, also expressed distress over the State Department’s recent measures, particularly because the situation had gotten so much better since the Obama administration opened up diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Her Cuban husband now travels to Cuba five or more times a year to visit his mother, and sometimes they both go for a quick weekend trip. She contrasted her husband’s state of mind before and after the reestablishment of relations, noting that when he first got to the U.S. and was in the process of obtaining permanent residency, he was not able to return to Cuba for three years.

“It was awful, literally like torture,” she says. “And now, you know, it’s been so great because that trauma…started to really disappear.”

Many felt a sense of relief when travel to the island became easier and less expensive, especially Cuban-Americans who still have family on the island. It gave them great peace of mind to know that if their mother, father, child or sibling fell ill suddenly, they would be able to drop everything and go to Cuba.

This family in Georgia is one of the many Cuban-American families that have been blindsided by the evacuation of U.S. embassy staff from Havana. The source’s mother-in-law just had her visa accepted two months ago—after three previous denials—and was in the process of gathering documents for her follow-up interview. Now that all interviews and appointments have been indefinitely suspended, it’s very likely she will not be able to come to the U.S. anytime soon.

These stories represent just a few of the many thousands of families that will be adversely affected by the State Department’s drastic measures of the past week. They are a particularly bitter pill to swallow because of the many positive steps that have been taken in the past two years to improve relations. Cuban-Americans are strongly in favor of normalization, but these measures are undeniably a major setback.


READ: U.S. Officials Are Investigating If Russia Is Behind A Bizarre Attack That Left U.S. Diplomats In Cuba With Hearing Loss

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Travel Restrictions Limit Americans To Only Flying Into Havana But Sube Let’s Americans Explore The Island

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Travel Restrictions Limit Americans To Only Flying Into Havana But Sube Let’s Americans Explore The Island

subecuba / Instagram

The progression of Cuba’s modern world has been a slow one, but it’s also been eager to thrive thanks to the younger generation. The integration of the internet didn’t arrive on the island until the late aughts. Back then, when U.S. relations with Cuba became friendlier under the Obama Administration, it looked as if Cuba was ready to get online. However, it wasn’t until 2007 that Cuba decided to team up with Venezuela in order for the country to help them venture into the digital age. Now, under the Trump Administration, who is putting the breaks on the Cuba/U.S. relationship, the Cuban people have something more to aspire to. 

A Cuban startup has launched a cab service that will help tourists get around the island now that the Trump Administration has blocked airline travel to all areas of Cuba except Havana.

Credit: subecuba / Instagram

The company is called Sube (which translations to “get on” or “hop on”), and it’s basically a ride-share service like Uber and Lyft, although their intention is to seek out tourists who wish to visit the areas outside of Havana. 

Late last year, the Trump Administration issued a travel ban throughout the island, which meant that American airlines could only fly into Havana. All other airports in Cuba were forbidden. The announcement didn’t automatically erase flights that were already booked. U.S. travelers can only arrive in Havana, so if they have plans outside of the capital, getting there is trickier and expensive. The solution is Sube. 

Sube wants tourists to know that their service is safe and that they can provide an exciting and fun way to get around the island.

Credit: subecuba / Instagram

“Sube is a ridesharing app founded in Cuba,” their About section states. “Our drivers will help you move around safely and fast while sharing their knowledge of our customs and culture.”

One of the most popular attractions in Cuba is their vintage cars. So how can these old cars keep up with this new motive of transportation? Sube owners say all cars, vintage ones as well, are in perfect condition and can drive long distances. All drivers have verified licenses as well. 

The app launched in 2018, and since then, the app has been downloaded at least 10,000 times and so far has 6,000 registered users.

Credit: subecuba / Instagram

“We knew the trouble people go through in Cuba to get to work every day, to get home, or if they just want to go out,” Claudia Cuevas Alarcón told NBC News. Aside from Cuevas Alarcón, a 27-year-old, Sube’s creators include 26-year-old Damián Martín, 26, and 27-year-old Darién González. 

What makes this company even more fascinating is that these young entrepreneurs have found a way to work the system to their benefit. For example, U.S. credit cards are prohibited on the island, which means travelers can only use cash. 

Sube creators registered their company in the U.S., so this makes it possible for travelers to download the app before they leave their home country, upload their credit card information. Once they arrive on the island, they have already reserved their car service, and the exchange of payment is not needed. 

It’s not just tourists who use the app, locals are using Sube to get around the island as well.

Credit: subecuba / Instagram

“If you are visiting Cuba this December, move with SUBE and pay from abroad,” one of their beautiful Instagram posts says. “We have 70 registered and available taxis, which will make your trips more enjoyable and safe. You can book them before your arrival at the airport, until departure. Do not hesitate.”

Other ways to use Sube is pretty straightforward. You can use Whatsapp or Facebook to reserve a cab. Travel experts also suggest that if you’re traveling to Cuba, you should also download apps that will help not only with travel information but translation, money exchange, and texting capabilities. Here are some useful apps that extremely useful: Maps.me, XE currency, Google Translate, Pocket, Havanatrans, Zapya, AlaMesa, CubaMessenger, and ProtonVPN. And, of course, Whatsapp and Airbnb. 

It’s very exciting to see young Cubans not allowing connectivity or travel regulations (or any sort of limitation) stop them from progressing into a new frontier of digital capabilities.

READ: The Trump Administration Took Another Swipe At Cuba By Banning Almost All Flights To The Island

The Diplomatic Incident Between Mexico And Bolivia Has Intensified With One Bolivian Official Calling AMLO A ‘Cowardly Thug’

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The Diplomatic Incident Between Mexico And Bolivia Has Intensified With One Bolivian Official Calling AMLO A ‘Cowardly Thug’

Luis Rivera-Jimenez / Milenio

What started as a dispute over asylum status for nine supporters of former Bolivian President Evo Morales has now spiraled out of control into a full international crisis.

Bolivia’s interim government initially contested Mexico’s decision to grant asylum to Evo Morales who fled the country. But it was Mexico’s granting of asylum to nine former Morales’ supporters within the Mexican embassy in La Paz that has started this entire diplomatic row. Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Minister complained that the embassy was ‘under siege’ as Bolivian security forces surrounded the complex.

This situation grew even larger on Friday, as Spain was pulled into the confrontation.

The diplomatic crisis between Mexico and Bolivia has now even pulled in the likes of Spain into the chaos.

The diplomatic situation between Bolivia and Mexico continues to reach new lows. According to Bolivian Foreign Minister Karen Longaric, Spanish diplomats visiting the Mexican compound were joined by masked and armed men. She called that a brazen attack on Bolivian sovereignty and said she’d lodge a complaint with the United Nations.

The interim government already has been feuding with Mexico, which not only gave refuge to the nine, but also sheltered ousted leader Evo Morales when he resigned the presidency on November 10 after losing the support of the military and police following days of turbulent protests over alleged fraud in his reelection bid.

The Mexican embassy in La Paz is housing nine opponents to the current Bolivian government and the government is intensifying police presence around the building.

Embassies have a different jurisdictional status in the countries that house them compared to normal office buildings of houses. According to international law and agreements, security forces in the host country do not have full rights to enter embassies as they are considered de facto territories of the guest nations.

This is why when someone is fearing for their life or escaping the law on a matter that they deem unjust, some countries decide to open its embassies for political dissidents and activists. We can think, for example, of the super famous Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who spent years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Now supporters of Evo Morales are seeking refuge in foreign embassies of countries whose governments were politically aligned with Morales, such as AMLO’s government in Mexico.

Nine Bolivians are now housed in the Mexican embassy in La Paz, but the new government has increased police presence around the building, making staff feel threatened and basically holding the embassy under siege.

As AAP indicates: “Since Monday, Mexico has accused the new conservative Bolivian government of heightening the police presence outside the embassy in La Paz and intimidating its staff”. 

The situation is so tense that Mexico is taking matters to the international court of The Hague.

Mexico’s highest ranking diplomatic official, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, has gotten involved. As the Australian Associated Press reports: “Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a regular news briefing on Thursday that his government was appealing to the court, based in The Hague, to mediate in the dispute, which centres on Mexico’s decision to grant asylum to nine people at its embassy.”

Ebrard weighed what is at stake in this matter, which could set a precedent in terms of what the interim government of Bolivia, a far-right coalition, might do. He said: “What is in between here is the integrity of a representation of Mexico, it is our territory. In addition to calling into question the right to asylum.”

Mexican president AMLO was also quick to weigh in: “Let us hope that the right of asylum will be reconsidered, the right to be respected, and it will deviate from any temptation to take or violate our sovereignty, by wanting to penetrate the Mexican embassy in Bolivia.” He also said that not even Pinochet acted that way, referring to the Chilean far-right dictator who ruled over the South American country with an iron fist.  

But of course the response from his Bolivian counterpart was quick to come… 

Bolivian officials have blasted Mexico’s move, claiming that Mexico asked for increased security in the first place.

Bolivia’s chancellor, Karen Longaric, has criticized Mexico’s move, saying: “No one can forward claims for actions that are not proved or based on assumptions voiced by the Mexican Foreign Ministry.” She said that it was Mexican officials themselves who asked for increased security when massive protests erupted and violence in the streets of La Paz became commonplace for weeks.

According to Sputnik News Service: “Longaric pointed out the interim government’s commitment to international law and reassured that the country’s leadership would never order security forces to enter the embassy’s territory without the due permission of the diplomatic mission.” 

In the meantime, Evo Morales has accused the United States of orchestrating a coup to oust him and to dig into the country’s lithium reserves.

Credit: Robert Sieland

In the meantime, Evo Morales, the ousted president, told AFP that big mining money is behind the change of government. He said: “It was a national and international coup d’etat. Industrialised countries don’t want competition.”

From Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he is currently living in exile, Morales said that his government was seeking Chinese and Russian investment to mine the vast reserves of lithium that lay under Bolivian soil. The United States, he believes, did not want the competition and wants to mine the reserves themselves. Lithium is key for the manufacturing of computers and mobile devices, and an extremely coveted commodity in the digital age.