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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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Twenty Years Ago The US Sided With Fidel Castro To Send Back Elián Gonzales, Here’s Why His Story Still Matters Today

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Twenty Years Ago The US Sided With Fidel Castro To Send Back Elián Gonzales, Here’s Why His Story Still Matters Today

Associated Press

About 20 years ago, 5-year-old Elián Gonazalez arrived three miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale from Cuba, on a makeshift raft, in search of his relatives in the states and a better life. Gonzalez’s survival through the arduous waters that would drown his mother and a dozen others along the way, might have been the media’s narrative in a different circumstance. 

The 5-year-old would soon become embroiled in an international custody battle. Did Gonzalez belong back in Cuba with his father or in Miami’s Little Havana with his uncle which many believed was his mother’s dying wish? 

The communist leader of Cuba at the time Fidel Castro wanted him back — and although the U.S. government initially placed the boy with his Cuban-exile relatives, they would eventually side with the dictator

Elián Gonzalez arrived in Florida in 1999 over Thanksgiving weekend.

Up until 2017, the United States had a “wet feet, dry feet,” policy with regards to Cuban migrants — all were welcome. The policy from 1966 allowed anyone who entered the United States territorial waters from Cuba, legally or illegally, to reside. It was revised in 1995 by the Clinton administration so that any Cubans retrieved in the territorial waters would be sent back, but if they made it onto dry land they would be allowed to stay. 

Gonzalez was found by South Florida fisherman in 1999 over Thanksgiving weekend. The 5-year-old was welcomed by the anti-communist community of Cuban exiles. The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service placed Gonzalez with his paternal relatives who lived in Miami and wanted to raise him, however, his father in Cuba demanded his son be returned.

 Under the “wet feet, dry feet” policy, Gonzalez would have to petition for asylum because he was discovered before touching dry land. This small detail would cause a six-month, international legal battle and shift the way many Florida Cubans perceive American politics. 

Courts decide to send Gonzalez back to Cuba. 

While Cuban demonstrators and empathetic Americans supported the stay of Gonzalez — the governmental powers that be were building a case that suggested otherwise. A Florida family court granted custody to Gonzalez’s great uncle in Miami. However, INS had the superior authority to decide that his real legal guardian was his father in Cuba. Had the boy’s mother survived, things might have turned out differently. 

On March 21, District Court Judge Kevin Michael Moore of Southern Florida ruled that only a legal guardian can petition for asylum on behalf of a minor. But on April 19, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Gonzalez could stay until his family could file an appeal. When government negotiations failed with the family, more extreme measures were taken to retrieve the boy.

On April 22, 2000, on orders from Attorney General Janet Reno, armed government officials raided Gonzalez’s home with guns and tear gas. A photo showing a crying 5-year-old Gonzalez with a large gun pointed to his face would later win the Pulitzer Prize. 

Gonzalez was safely repatriated back to Cuba.

The Gonzalez decision may have affected the outcome of the 2000 election.

Following the Clinton administration, the 2000 election was a turning point in American politics. Many Cubans felt alienated by the Gonzalez decision, and thus, walked away from the Democratic party altogether. 

“It was humiliating to Cuban-Americans, and the 2000 election was payback,” Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen told the Atlantic in 20001.

Republican George W. Bush won by 537 votes during a messy (and possibly corrupt) recount of the 6 million votes cast in Florida, beating out Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. Known as “el voto castigo,” Gore received only 20 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida, compared to Bill Clinton’s 35 percent in 1996. Thus, 80 percent of Cuban American voters chose Bush over Gore — which should be a lesson to both parties trying to build Latinx coalition. 

Bush would go on to start the endless war in Iraq, utilize Islamophobic rhetoric in the wake of 9/11, trigger one of the worst recessions, and until recently, was considered the worst president in U.S. history. Gore would go on to warn us about climate change decades before the discourse entered the national conversation. 

What has become of Elián Gonzalez today? 

Gonzalez, in his 20s, is now a communist and staunch supporter of the Cuban Revolution. He was welcomed with a celebration upon his deportation. On his seventh birthday, Fidel Castro himself attended his birthday party. 

Whether Gonzalez is on the right side of history is beside the point because the 5-year-old boy could not have become who he is today without instigation by the United States. Communist-sympathizer or not — he was correct about one thing: 

“Just like her [his mother], many others have died attempting to go to the United States. But it’s the US government’s fault,” Gonzalez told CNN in 2013. “Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba.”

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

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

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

From Day One the Trump Administration made it clear that they wouldn’t be continuing the same diplomatic efforts with Cuba that the Obama Administration had started. Trump has indicated he is not a fan of the current Cuban regime nor Obama’s rapprochement and there were plenty of right-leaning Cuban-Americans who have supported his plans.

However, Trump’s latest move against the island risks not only angering American tourists who wish to visit the Communist island nation but also those same Cuban-Americans who wish to visit their family members still living on the island.

A new rule bans all flights to Cuba outside of the capital of Havana.

The Trump administration is banning U.S. flights to all Cuban cities but Havana in the latest move to roll back the Obama-era easing of relations.

The State Department said JetBlue flights to Santa Clara in central Cuba and the eastern cities of Holguin, Camaguey would be banned starting in December. American Airlines flights to Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara, the beach resort of Varadero and the eastern city of Santiago are also being banned.

Flights to Havana, which account for the great majority of U.S. flights to Cuba, will remain legal.

The stated reason for the move is to prevent tourism to Cuba, which is banned by U.S. law. But it is not clear how many people take the flights for tourism purposes. Many are used by Cuban-Americans visiting relatives in cities far from Havana by road.

“This action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from U.S. air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. Raul Castro stepped down as president last year but remains head of the Communist Party, the country’s highest authority. 

The ban, which goes into effect on Dec. 10, was announced Friday by the Department of Transportation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that the flights are being suspended indefinitely because of Cuba’s repression of its people and support for Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro.

An excerpt of the letter said the move was to “further the administration’s policy of strengthening the economic consequences to the Cuban regime for its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its support” for Maduro.

Two major US-based airlines and travelers with tickets already purchased with them will be affected by this latest crackdown.

American Airlines and JetBlue both fly routes to cities in Cuba other than Havana and will have to end those routes in accordance with the new regulations.

JetBlue said in a statement Friday that it plans to operate in full compliance with the new policy.

“We are beginning to work with our various government and commercial partners to understand the full impact of this change on our customers and operations in Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara,” the airline said.

American Airlines said it was also working to comply. American said it currently operates 11 daily flights in Cuba, six of which are in Havana.

“We are reviewing today’s announcement regarding service to non-Havana airports in Cuba,” the airline said in a statement. “We will continue to comply with federal law, work with the administration, and update our policies and procedures regarding travel to Cuba as necessary.”

The White House’s restrictions are yet another roll back of the friendlier relationship President Obama began with Cuba before the end of his administration.

In June the Department of the Treasury and the State Departmentsaid group educational or cultural trips to Cuba, or “people-to-people” travel, would no longer be permitted.

“Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island,” the Department of State said in a statement at the time.

Last year the State Department added 26 tourist attractions to a long list of restricted sites Americans are barred from visiting in Cuba, including hotels, marinas and shops.

It is still legal for Americans to visit Cuba, though the increased sanctions and restrictions on travel have dampened interest and reduced tourism dramatically.