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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President Trump Attempted To Register His Trademark In Cuba In 2008 To Open Hotels And More

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President Trump Attempted To Register His Trademark In Cuba In 2008 To Open Hotels And More

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

New reports show that President Donald Trump tried to register his trademark in Cuba in 2008. The revelation shows another contradiction from President Trump who promised not to do business in Cuba until the island was a free democracy. The news comes just one week into Hispanic Heritage Month and has left some on social media questioning President Trump’s commitment to Cuban-Americans.

A new Miami Herald story is shining a light on Trump’s attempted business dealings in Cuba.

The story highlights President Trump’s hypocrisy and frequent contradictions throughout his life. The president’s attempted business dealings in Cuba came after he told the Cuban American National Foundation that he would not. During a 1999 speech, President Trump promised that he would not do business in Cuba until the island and the people were free.

For some, the revelation comes as a reminder of President Trump’s record with the Latino community. Latinos have been a constant target for Trump’s attacks since he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals when announcing his candidacy in 2015.

The news has angered Latinos who see the gesture as a sign of betrayal.

“I’ve had a lot of offers and, sadly, it’s all be very recently, to go into Cuba on deals. Business deals, real estate, and other deals,” Trump said at the 1999 speech in front of the Cuban American National Foundation. “I’ve rejected them on the basis that I will go when Cuba is free.”

Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, Republican political pundit and outspoken Trump critic, did not hold back.

Navarro-Cárdenas is one Republican who has long stood up against President Trump. Her tweets highlighted the fact that President Trump didn’t try to do business in Cuba just once. There are several instances that show that the president tried to make business happen in Cuba.

“Putting money and investing money in Cuba right now doesn’t go to the people of Cuba,” Trump told the audience in 1999. “It goes into the pockets of Fidel Castro.”

People are not completely shocked by the news.

The Trump administration has also been tied to the Cuban government. Earlier this year, news surfaced that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, met with “Castro’s son” in Cuba. The meeting happened in 2017 just days before the inauguration. Emails show Manafort trying to relay information from “Castro’s son” to Kathleen T. McFarland, who would go on to be the Deputy National Security Advisor for the Trump administration.

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READ: Latinos For Trump Posted A Collage Of Flag For Hispanic Heritage Month And Got Some Wrong

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Cuba Locks Down Havana To Stop Covid-19 As Cubans Struggle To Afford Everyday Items

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Cuba Locks Down Havana To Stop Covid-19 As Cubans Struggle To Afford Everyday Items

Ivan Bor / Getty Images

Cuba has been one of the hemisphere’s coronavirus success stories — but a sudden outbreak in its capital has brought on a strict, two-week Havana lockdown. Residents of the capital city will be forced to stay-at-home for 15-days, while people from other parts of the island ill be prohibited from visiting – essentially sealing off the city from the outside world.

Meanwhile, the Coronavirus pandemic has pummeled the island’s economy and has left many everyday items out of reach for many Cubans. Some are being forced to turn to ‘dollar stores,’ where the U.S. dollar is once again accepted as hard currency – something now allowed since 1993.

Officials have ordered a strict 15-day lockdown of Havana in an effort to stamp out the spread of Coronavirus in the capital.

Aggressive anti-virus measures, including closing down air travel, have virtually eliminated COVID-19 in Cuba with the exception of Havana, where cases have surged from a handful a day to dozens daily over the last month. 

A daily curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. was instituted Tuesday. Most stores are barred from selling to shoppers from outside the immediate neighborhood in order to discourage people from moving around the city. 

Some Havana residents complained that the measures were complicating the already difficult task of buying food in a city hit by constant shortages and endless lines for a limited supply of basic goods. Some provinces that saw no new cases for weeks have begun detecting them in recent days, often linked to travelers from Havana.

The start of in-person classes for students was also indefinitely delayed in Havana, while schools opened normally in the rest of Cuba.

To enforce the lockdown, police stationed on every road leaving Havana are supposed to stop anyone who doesn’t have a special travel permit, which is meant to be issued only in extraordinary circumstances.

Under the strict new lockdown measures, anyone who is found in violation of the stay-at-home orders face fines of up to $125 per violation, more than triple the average monthly wage.

The island nation had seemed to manage the pandemic well – with fewer cases than many of its Caribbean neighbors.

Credit: Ivan Bor / Getty Images

The island of 11 million people has reported slightly more than 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with fewer than 100 deaths, one of the lowest rates in the region.

The government made face masks obligatory in the early stages of its pandemic response, and in the first months of the crisis police aggressively fined and even jailed people for violations. 

That vigilance slackened somewhat as Havana moved out of the first, strictest phase of lockdown in July, when public transportation restarted and people returned to work. The number of coronavirus cases then began to climb again.

Meanwhile, the Cuban economy has tanked and residents are struggling to make ends meet now more than ever before.

Credit: Yamil Lage / Getty Images

The pandemic has hit the island’s economy particularly hard. Much of the island relies on agricultural and tourism – two sectors that have been decimated by Coronavirus.

As a result, many Cubans are struggling to afford everyday items. Rice – which used to sell for about $13 Cuban pesos per kilo is now going for triple that.

In an effort to allow Cubans better access to goods, the government has began recognizing the U.S. dollar as official currency. This is extraordinary as mere possession of U.S. dollars was long considered a criminal offense. However, the measure draws a line between the haves and have-nots, one that runs even deeper than it did before the pandemic.

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