Cubans protest new Ecuador visa rules

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

HA­VANA: Hun­dreds of Cubans protested at the Ecuadorean em­bassy in Cuba on Fri­day, a day af­ter the An­dean na­tion an­nounced they would need visas to en­ter the coun­try as of Dec 1. The Cubans waved their pass­ports and plane tick­ets and said they were an­gry be­cause they had al­ready bought tick­ets un­der the pre­vi­ous no-visa pol­icy of Ecuador and wanted pas­sage or their money back. An Ecuadorean diplo­mat told the crowd they would have to go on­line and get a 90-day tourism visa and speak to the air­lines about re­funds.

Cuban po­lice se­cured the em­bassy, which they said was closed. There was no violence. “Now they are say­ing we can’t travel to Ecuador be­cause of the Cubans who are skip­ping out. That’s not our fault!” said Ivan Balera, 51, who said he spent over $1,000 on his ticket. The em­bassy said at a press con­fer­ence that the web page for ap­ply­ing for the visa is up and run­ning, and Cubans will have to work with air­lines to change their tick­ets if they are not able to ob­tain a visa in time.

“Gov­ern­ments can’t in­ter­vene in com­mer­cial poli­cies... How­ever... we are aware that the air­lines are will­ing to is­sue re­funds,” said Ecuadorean Con­sul So­raya Blanca En­cal­ada. Ecuador said it made the de­ci­sion at a re­gional meet­ing on Tues­day in El Salvador to dis­cuss the fu­ture of thou­sands of Cubans stranded at the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border en route to the United States. “We de­cided to im­pose the visa re­quire­ment for Cuban cit­i­zens in or­der to dis­cour­age the flow of peo­ple seek­ing to reach the United States,” Ecuador’s for­eign min­is­ter, Xavier Lasso, told re­porters on Thurs­day.

Thou­sands of Cubans have trav­eled to Ecuador over the past decade, some to pur­chase goods for re­sale at home and oth­ers to set­tle. Many use the coun­try as an en­try point for making the per­ilous trek through Cen­tral Amer­ica to the Mex­i­can border with the United States, where they are granted en­try and res­i­dency, un­like other mi­grants. The of­fice of Ecuador air­line Tame in Ha­vana posted a sign on the door di­rect­ing Cubans with tick­ets for af­ter Dec 1 to con­tact the em­bassy.

“Noth­ing has been spec­i­fied yet. We are sup­posed to re­ceive in­struc­tions on Mon­day,” said a Tame of­fice worker in Ha­vana who de­clined to give her name. She said it had not yet been de­cided whether Tame would change its re­fund pol­icy. — Reuters

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