Cubans’ Route To The United States Passes Through Remote Guyana / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Guyana. (Youtube)
Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Guyana. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 15 November 2016 – He doesn’t yet know how to find Guyana on a map, but he proudly shows off a plane reservation from Havana to Panama City and finally to Georgetown. Samuel, a fictitious name to avoid reprisals, was counting the hours this Saturday before boarding his plane to the small nation, a new port of entry for Cubans on their route to the United States.

With the visa restrictions imposed by Ecuador since the end of last year, the routes islanders must follow to emigrate have been redefined. The lax entry regulations, which don’t require visas from Cubans, have made Guyana a first step on the long route of thousands of miles during which emigrants pass through at least seven countries.

“I sold everything, the apartment I inherited from my mother, my home appliances and my almost new motorbike,” Samuel told 14ymedio at José Martí International Airport. With the money, he managed to buy a ticket to the South American country, some 840 dollars round trip, although he says it will be a journey with no return.

“They explained everything to me,” says this young Holguin native. “Several friends have already taken the same route and gotten to Miami,” although they also warned him that it is “a long and complicated journey, where anything could happen.”

The line at the counter of Panama’s Copa Airlines is full of people like Samuel. A couple kissing intensely on Saturday, before the man checked his suitcases bound for Georgetown. A few yards away, Samuel bent nervously, again and again, looking over his hotel booking.

“I will not be staying in this place but I need a reservation to avoid problems when entering Guyana” he explains. As soon as he lands he will contact Ney, a Mexican woman with a Uruguayan cellphone number who will put him in contact with the coyotes who will guide him through the first part of the journey.

“I have to pay $6,000, little by little, but they guarantee I will be at the United States border before the end of November,” he says. He does not know anyone in Guyana and does not want to think about the idea of having to stay in that country. “I do not speak a word of English and I’ve had enough of little countries like my own,” he jokes, as he approaches his turn at the Copa Airlines counter.

He is carrying a suitcase that weighs almost nothing. “I have nothing, what I didn’t sell I gave away.” His only possessions of any worth are a smart phone, a watch and about 8,000 dollars that remain after getting rid of all his property in a hurry. “With this I have to get to Miami because I don’t have even a single cent more,” he says.

Samuel carries contact numbers for Paulo and Adele, a small family business that operates a bus route between Guyana and Brazil. “A cousin gave me these numbers in case I change my mind and he wants me to go to Rio de Janeiro, where he runs a gym.”

Samuel has a degree in physical culture and he believes he can have a future “in some fitnessss center because there are so many of those in Florida,” he says, pronouncing the word with a very long, almost ridiculous, “S” sound, but he is also willing “to lay bricks doing construction work in the hot sun.”

After a couple of years working as a physical education teacher, the young man is ready to “conquer the world” if he can. For now, his challenges are more modest: to get to the Cheddi Jagan Airport in Georgetown and convince the immigration agent that he’s a tourist planning to sightsee and shop, to avoid being deported.

“I will just grab my suitcase and rush to the first taxi that passes by.” The airport is more than 25 miles from the city, but Samuel predicts that he will be laughing the whole time because he will be “over there, far from this shit.”

Each day about fifty Cubans depart from Terminal 3 of Havana’s International Airport heading to Guyana, according to an employee of Copa Airlines. The numbers could skyrocket if people fear that the Passport and Visa Service of that country will be closed to islanders, as happened with Ecuador.

The victory of Donald Trump is also an incentive for emigration, with the expectations that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be repealed. “It’s now or never,” says Samuel, with ticket in hand. The young man steps toward the immigration booth, where an official will affix the stamp to leave the country. That clicking sound on the paper will be his shot to take off.