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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Trump Administration Just Deported 120 Cubans On A Single Plane

Things That Matter

Trump Administration Just Deported 120 Cubans On A Single Plane

@JusticiaLealtv / Twitter

We can’t imagine what the energy or conversations might have felt like on the ICE plane that deported 120 Cuban immigrants in one fell swoop. Many of the deportees had reportedly passed credible fear interviews, during which they showed proof of the violence and persecution they would face if they were sent back. This deportation is one of the largest deportation missions of Cuban immigrants in years. 

While Trump is the current president allowing for deportation, President Barack Obama is responsible for removing deportation protections from Cuban nationals, an agreement signed during his last days in office.

“South Florida should be up in arms,” immigration attorney, Randy McGrorty said.

Credit: Catholic Legal Services Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. / Facebook

One of his clients is a Cuban national who sought asylum in the U.S. through the Mexico border. McGrorty told The Miami Herald that his client was on that flight to Havana, but an eleventh-hour paperwork glitch allowed him to be removed from the plane. In a statement, ICE said that “ten special response team operators” were assigned to the flight given “the charter flight’s high number of removals” in order to “ensure adequate mission security onboard the flight.”

The majority of those on the flight didn’t have assigned attorneys.

Credit: @Power1051 / Twitter

The Miami Herald cites “ICE sources” who have said that the majority of those on the flight had passed credible fear interviews. Those interviews are simply the first entry point to being granted permission to apply for asylum, but it doesn’t mean they’re granted asylum. We can’t predict if they would have been deported had they been given attorneys. We don’t know whether the deported group were made up of recent migrants or long-time residents.

President Obama signed the “Joint Agreement” during his last week in office that requires Cuba to accept all deported Cuban nationals.

Credit: @Niketa2007 / Twitter

Word for word, the document says, “The United States of America shall return to the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of Cuba shall receive back all Cuban nationals who … are found by the competent authorities of the United States to have tried to irregularly enter or remain in that country in violation of United States law.” Effectively, it ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed Cubans to be granted protections the moment they were on U.S. land. Those Cubans had the opportunity to gain legal residency.

Before the “Joint Agreement,” Cuba had a history of rejecting deportees from America, forcing the U.S. to fly the deportees back.

Credit: @albertodelacruz / Twitter

The ICE statement continues to explain that, “the large removal charter is made all the more significant given Cuba’s longstanding status with respect to accepting the return of Cuban nationals ordered removed from the United States and abiding by key provisions of the U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement. Cuba has a long history of being deemed an uncooperative country.”

As the U.S. relations with Cuba have changed, Cuba continues to remain a communist Castro regime.

Credit: @velvethehammer / Twitter

Fidel may have perished, but the regime remains strong. “Let’s see what happens to them upon arrival,” McGrorty told The Miami Herald. “Are they going to have access to employment, a place to live? Are they going to have benefits that the other Cubans have? Are they going to face persecution?” Cuba has historically rejected accepting its nationals back because of their public criticism against Castro, or even because they’re age might be a burden on the country’s healthcare. 

More than 37,000 Cubans in the U.S. have been given orders of removal.

Credit: @noticias24 / Twitter

Several attorneys confided in The Miami Herald on the basis of anonymity to raise awareness for a settled community in the U.S. facing persecution. Their clients have lived in South Florida for decades, remaining in compliance with their attendance orders from ICE, and, today, are sitting in detention centers awaiting a decision from Cuba on whether it will accept them back. Cuba can take as long as 90 days to make that decision, given that “The Joint Agreement” only applies to those Cuban nationals that immigrate after the January 12, 2017 accord. 

Cubans make up the largest number of asylum seekers right now.

Credit: @JusticiaLealTV / Twitter

Venezuelans and Nicaraguans take the second and third place in asylum-seeking. Compared to Trump’s first year in office, there have been 4.5x as many Cubans deported so far this year. It doesn’t matter how long Cuban nationals have been in the U.S. If they have a criminal record, they are likely going to be deported, and, now, suddenly, Cuba may actually accept them.

READ: More Cubans Are Being Detained And Deported One Year After ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Was Eliminated

Mind Blown: Two Women In Cuba Invented An Extraordinary Way To Deliver Pizza From Their Rooftop Apartment

Culture

Mind Blown: Two Women In Cuba Invented An Extraordinary Way To Deliver Pizza From Their Rooftop Apartment

Great Big Story / YouTube

If you have a passion for something, there isn’t anyone or anything that will stop you from doing it. Success in any field, whether it is in your career, personal growth, family goals, etc., takes persistence and dedication. You must have a clear vision of how to make your goals and dreams a realization. The key is also understanding when to listen to others and follow critical advice. These are the many lessons we learned from two incredible Latina entrepreneurs from Cuba. 

Marta Castaeda is the owner of A Mi Manera (My Way) Pizzeria in Havana, Cuba, who found a perfect solution to selling pizzas from her apartment. 

Credit: Great Big Story / YouTube

Castaeda began her pizza business in 2010 with her husband, but after his unfortunate death, Castaeda partnered up with another woman, Marta del Barrio, and a new chapter of her business came to fruition.

According to Great Big Story, who interviewed the two women, the Marta’s said that they initially sold their pizza in a standard way. You see, they run their business from their apartment, and their kitchen is on the top floor of the building. When the pizzas were ready to serve, one of the Marta’s would have to walk down the flight of stairs, hand it to the customer, and walk back up. Castaeda said this method was tiresome. We can only imagine. Then a stroke of genius changed everything for their business. 

Lots of people suggested ways to perfect their business, but one person gave a stellar idea on how to sell pizzas more efficiently: send the pizza down on a basket. 

Credit: Great Big Story / YouTube

The invention worked. From then on the women took the orders downstairs, they’d call it up to the cook via phone, make the pizza, and deliver it down on the basket. While this is most definitely a clever and marketable way to sell pizza, they — like any business — also had some hiccups with this clever invention.

Castaeda recalled that one time, while a pizza was being sent down on a basket, it fell out and landed on a woman’s head. Now, we’ve lived in New York City long enough to know that if something is going to hit us on the head, we sure would rather be struck by a pizza than anything else. 

Castaeda is proud of her business, her partner, and how they’ve managed to be a successful, money-making venture in a nontraditional capitalist country. 

Credit: Great Big Story / YouTube

“Here we have to find a way to sell, to be able to maintain the license, so that’s what we have done with our resources, look for solutions,” Castaeda said, according to The Cuban History. She also said that people come from all over the island — not to mention all over the world — to try out her pizza. But mostly to see the pizza come down in its signature way from the rooftop. 

The name of her business A Mi Manera is at the heart of what makes this pizzeria a hit with the people. 

Credit: Great Big Story / YouTube

Castaeda discloses that pizzas are made exactly how the people want it. They can choose from a variety of toppings because the real taste that differentiates this pizza from the rest is in the sauce and handmade dough. While she does not disclose what’s exactly in the recipe, the pizzas are clearly a hit because people come from everywhere just to eat them. 

According to The Cuban History, each pizza typically sells for 12 Cuban pesos which are about 50 cents. We have one piece of advice for the owners of A Mi Manera pizzeria: increase those prices! Especially for tourists!! We also suggest they trademark this clever way of selling pizzas. We’re certain any pizza entrepreneur in the United States will see this and try to market it for themselves. 

At the end of the day, Castaeda said it’s not about making money but rather enjoying each other’s company by providing good food and humor.  

Credit: Great Big Story / YouTube

“Pizza helps Cuba survive and persevere,” Castaeda said in her interview with Great Big Story. She adds that they are always looking for ways to improve their business and she’s always open to new ideas especially from her partner. 

So how do they keep up with demand even on the busiest days? Castaeda said she always ready to for light humor on the job and is ready to make someone smile. 

“I always try to do things while laughing,” she said, “because laughter brightens up the day.” 

This woman needs to be lecturing business courses at every top university! Now, for the most important information. A Mi Manera Pizzeria is located at 919 Neptuno, La Habana, Cuba. You’re welcome! 

READ: Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizza Is Getting A Mexican Makeover