14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana 7 May 2018 — Until three months ago, no one in Yuliet Barrios’ family could find Guyana on the map, something that changed when the United States moved the issuing of visas for Cuban immigrants to that South American country. The trip to Georgetown is now the first step for thousands of families on the island in fulfilling their dream of emigrating north.
“At first [after it was moved out of Havana] the processing of immigrant visas were issued in Colombia but that was a bad decision by the US government because that country requires Cubans to have a visa,” says Barrios, the mother of two children married to a Camagüeyan, has been living for almost a decade in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Long lines, breakdowns and numerous consular interviews were missed in Bogotá because those summoned could not arrive on time, generated an atmosphere of discomfort and uncertainty when traveling to Colombian soil for immigration procedures.
Washington then decided to transfer the procedures to Guyana taking into account “the availability of flights” and “officials to adjudicate cases.” Likewise, the fact that Cuban citizens do not need a visa to travel to Guyana greatly facilitates the situation for applicants.
This small nation, a former British colony, allows Cubans to visit for up to 90 days without a visa , which has made it an ideal destination for the mules who buy supplies to import to the island, but also as a springboard for those who want to emigrate to other parts of the continent.
“When we found out about the change, it was like the sky had cleared, because the situation in the Colombian embassy was very chaotic and the lines lasted for days,” says Barrios, who went there for a consular appointment, but while waiting learned of the move to Guyana.
Last January, an official of the Colombian consulate in Miami told 14ymedio about all the difficulties that the diplomatic office was going through to process the requests. “We are seeing a much higher than normal number of people every day. They usually arrive without an appointment and ask to be taken care of in a very short period of time,” he lamented.
Cuba’s official press rejects the new policy of the White House due to the inconvenience caused by the departure of a large part of the US diplomatic staff of the island and the closure of consular functions.
On Monday, the Escambray newspaper of Sancti Spiritus Province asked its readers for their opinions on what they believed were behind the decision of the US government to move the visa processing center to Guyana. By midmorning, more than 1,000 readers had responded and 44% had chosen the positive variant: “To facilitate access to services, because Guyana does not require a visa for Cubans.”
The other options, in addition to “I do not know,” were “to add new tensions to relations between Cuba and the United States”; “to maintain instability in the legal emigration process stipulated by both countries”; and “to continue to impede the migratory flow.”
The Cuban state agency Havanatur has taken advantage of the rise in demand in trips to Guyana and as of 13 April it has been selling roundtrip plane tickets to Georgetown from Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey and Havana at a price of 799 CUC for adults and 116 CUC for children.
“It’s expensive but, what are we going to do if there is no other option and my family has already spent so much money that there is no going back?” asks Jorge, a 47-year-old Havanan who has not yet been able to leave the Island to join his wife and three children who emigrated to the United States five years ago.
“I stayed behind to sell the house and get some money to take with me but I had such bad luck that in the middle of all that the scandal of the acoustic attacks against the US personnel in Havana erupted and the consulate closed its doors,” laments this electrical engineer.
This week, Jorge’s wife has come to visit him on the island to help him with the travel arrangements to Guyana. “It’s the first time I’m leaving the country and I’m very nervous,” he confesses. “My wife will accompany me on that trip and if everything goes well before the end of the year I will be in the United States.”
He still has to solve accommodations in Guyana, but “that’s not difficult because there are many cheap options,” he explains.
Guyana is also a frequent route to Chile and Uruguay, countries that after the end of the US wet foot/dry foot policy have become a migration destination for residents on the island.
In Guyana, Yorvis Junco is dedicated to organizing short stays, with accommodation, food and transportation included, for his compatriots. “I came here with the intention of continuing on my way to Miami but one day I woke up with the fact that it was not so easy to enter the United States and I’ve been staying,” he says in an e-mail.
“My wife and I are now dedicating ourselves to helping the Cubans who come here and we put together a cheap package of accommodation and advice, because many have never traveled and feel quite lost,” he says. “We pick them up at the airport, give them a local SIM card and a clean and safe room, plus well-made food,” the couple offer. “We provide escorts to get the consulate and even translators if necessary, for a small fee,” says Junco.
“From Guyana Cubans can wait for the approval of the immigrant visa and leave from here to the United States,” he says, but warns that they must be careful not to let the 90 days expire and get deported after being detected by the authorities.
“That’s why it’s important that they have the ability to stay here for a while, safely and without risk.”
For this immigrant the troubled river of consular interviews has been “an opportunity to build this small business.” Junco warns, however, that Guyana can also be a dangerous place. “There are networks of traffickers who promise to take them to the United States but many times it is a lie and they end up taking all their money.”
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.