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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 Labels Cuba A State Sponsor Of Terrorism As His Own Supporters Face Similar Allegations

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Trump Labels Cuba A State Sponsor Of Terrorism As His Own Supporters Face Similar Allegations

Yander Zamora/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a move that is sure to complicate things for the incoming Biden administration, Trump has moved to put Cuba back on the list of nations that allegedly sponsor terrorism.

Obama had taken Cuba off of that list in 2015 and with four years to Cuba back on the list, many agree that Trump has simply put Cuba back on the list to make life difficult for President Biden.

The Trump administration has put Cuba back on the list of countries that “sponsor terrorism.”

With just days left in office, Trump has moved to label Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in a last-minute move that is sure to complicate things for the incoming Biden administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the controversial move which reverses Barack Obama’s 2015 decision to remove Cuba from the list after more than three decades – by accusing Havana of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbour to terrorists”.

Pompeo also alleged Cuba was engaging “in a range of malign behavior across the region”, highlighting its support for Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro who Trump has unsuccessfully tried to overthrow.

The controversial step places Cuba alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria as state sponsors of terror.

However, most officials agree that Trump’s claims about Cuba are bogus.

Many international observers – including U.S. allies – aren’t impressed by the administration’s claims that Cuba is sponsoring terrorism.

In an interview with The Guardian, Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, said “These are trumped up charges. Terrorism as an international definition is committing acts of violence against unarmed civilians intended to frighten the population. Cuba doesn’t do that. Yes, it represses its own people – but so does Saudi Arabia.”

Groups that favor greater U.S. engagement with Cuba criticized the announcement.

“There is no compelling, factual basis to merit the designation,” according to Ric Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a Washington DC-based organization that supports engagement with the island. “Instead it appears to be another shameless, last-ditch effort to hamstring the foreign policy of the incoming Biden administration and set the stage for the next election in Florida, all at the expense of the Cuban people and relations between our countries.”

Many observers agree that Trump’s move is simply a gift to party hardliners in Florida, and likely a deliberate attempt to make life difficult for the incoming Biden administration who may wish to end deténte with Cuba.

Of course, Cuban officials reacted angrily to the announcement.

After the announcement, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted: “We condemn the US announced hypocritical and cynical designation of #Cuba as a State sponsoring terrorism. The US political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims.”

Reversing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s action would require the Biden administration to certify to Congress that there has been a fundamental change in leadership in Cuba and that the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism, has not for the previous six months and will not do so in the future.

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Cuban Government Backtracks On Historic Deal With Protesters Just Days After Reaching An Agreement

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Cuban Government Backtracks On Historic Deal With Protesters Just Days After Reaching An Agreement

Alexandre Meneghini / Getty Images

It seemed that many Cuban’s hopes for greater freedom of expression – particularly in the art world – seems to have been dashed again. In less than 24 hours after apparently agreeing to meet several demands from dissident artists, the government broke at least three of the five agreements in had made.

Freedom of expression is a hot topic in Cuba, where the communist regime severely limits what artists can say and produce.

But even more rare: public protest. That’s what makes these recent marches in Havana so important, the island hasn’t seen anything like it in decades. And as almost on script, the Cuban government flipped on its public reaction to the growing movement, instead blaming it on “U.S. imperialism” and foreign intervention.

Cuban officials have completely condemned the protest movement in a full 180º change of attitude.

Over the weekend, Cuba saw unprecedented protests led by dissident artists and creatives – known as the San Isidro movement – seeking greater freedom of expression. And although it seemed early on that the group may have made progress (the government agreed to several concessions), those hopes went up in flames as the government launched an all-out rhetorical assault.

Shortly after the meeting between protesters and officials, the protest came to a peaceful end with leaders thinking they achieved what they had set out to do, and with a meeting to discuss the issues further.

But just hours later the government called in the top U.S. diplomat on the island, charge de affairs Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, for a scolding over “grave interference in Cuba’s internal affairs” as state television ran a 90-minute special attacking members of the protest group and broadcasting visuals of their interactions with U.S. diplomats and Miami exiles.

“Sovereign Cuba accepts no interference … The revolutionary ones will fight back,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in one of a series of Twitter posts accusing the San Isidro movement of being a “reality show” on social media created by “U.S. imperialists.”

What originally seemed like progress now seems like business as usual for the communist regime.

Credit: Yamil Lapage / AFP / Getty Images

It seemed, at least for a few short hours, that there was a real chance at bolstering artistic freedom in Cuba. The group of protesters, known as the San Isidro movement, gathered outside the culture ministry, leading Fernando Rojas, the deputy culture minister, to invite in a group of 30 of them. The meeting lasted for more than four hours, those present have said, and resulted in a promise of greater freedoms for artists.

Writer Katherine Bisquet told the press afterward that there had been a “truce for independent spaces” where activists could meet and talk, and that further discussions were promised.

“I cannot emphasize enough that this kind of public protest, with hundreds of people standing outside a ministry for 14 hours, is unprecedented,” Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco told Artnet News. “The fact that government officials conceded to a meeting is in itself a victory for the artists and a sign of weakness on the part of the government.”

The government had also agreed to urgently review the case of a detained member of the San Isidro crew and a rapper sentenced this month to eight months in jail on charges of contempt. It also agreed to ensure independent artists in the future were not harassed.

Cuban officials blamed the U.S. for stirring up dissent.

Shortly after the government launched a verbal assault on the group, it also accused the U.S. of helping them. Officials at the Foreign Ministry summoned the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Chargé d’Affaires Timothy Zuñiga-Brown, and complained about U.S. “intervention.”

At Sunday’s rally, Díaz Canel said that “Trumpistas” (referring to the Trump administration) and the “anti-Cuban mafia that are now ‘Trumpistas'” (referring to Cuban American Trump supporters in Miami) “had on their agenda that before the year ends, the revolutions of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have to fall.”

Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, tweeted Sunday: “We support the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty and echo calls for the Cuban government to release peaceful protestors. The Cuban people must be allowed to exercise the universal right to freedom of expression.”

Thanks to an imploding economy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented crisis.

Credit: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images

Cuba is going through dire shortages in food and basic goods amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has practically halted tourism to the island, on top of the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions.

Against that backdrop, García said, “I think the government should think about these things and view dialogue as a valid option to avoid a major disaster.”

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