14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 9 March 2022 — Hundreds of people surrounded the Embassy of Panama in Havana from early in the morning, shortly after the news broke that the country had begun to require transit visas from Cubans. The Police had to evacuate the surroundings and form a cordon to prevent the crowd from getting closer to the door.
“We want answers!” shouted the crowd. Among those who have gathered in front of the consular headquarters — people who had purchased tickets and who do not know if they will be able to travel — there are cries and loud demands, but explanations are still lacking.
At first, they told those present that at 1 pm the Panamanian Consulate would publish on its social networks the instructions to request the document and that this Wednesday they would attend only to people who had an appointment, but when that time came, there was no news. Then in the afternoon, outside the diplomatic headquarters, officials came out again and assured that those who travel by Saturday night will not need the new visa.
However, those who travel after that day and within 15 days will have to reschedule their flights. The employee assured that whoever travels after April 1 will not have any problem.
During the next three months, Panama will require a transit visa from Cubans passing through its territory. The measure, which came into force since its publication in the Official Gazette on Tuesday, affects all citizens who planned to fly to Nicaragua through Copa, the only airline that keeps the island connected with Managua, which since November had become on the main land exit route to the US.
“The visa for passengers or crew members in transit is established as a requirement for foreign citizens of Cuban nationality who travel through the Republic of Panama, to another destination or return to their country,” specifies the new rule.
The procedure has a cost of 50 balboas — 50 dollars — and must be done at the Embassy of the country in which you reside at least 15 days before the date of the flight. To do this, you must fill out a form accompanied by two passport photos, a photocopy of the passport, a copy of your air reservation, a copy of the identity document of the country of residence and proof of payment of consular fees.
The visa may be granted for up to a maximum period of twenty-four hours and only authorizes the migrants to remain in the international transit area of the airport so that they can continue their journey to another destination or their country of origin, according to the decree.
In front of the Embassy, those who arrived by appointment gathered and they were upset and asking about the procedure, generating a chaos that in the afternoon hours has not yet been resolved. Some, like a woman whose flight was scheduled for this morning at 10 am, cried desperately.
At the end of February, Costa Rica introduced an identical measure – although in that case it also affected Nicaraguans and Venezuelans – that provoked strong rejection among Cubans. The Government of that country reacted to Daniel Ortega’s decision to open the land border with his country, which allowed the entry of migrants through that route towards Nicaragua. Many of them already had a purchased ticket to San José and gathered in front of the embassy in Havana to protest. “What we want is that they respect the people who purchased tickets before the new law was applied,” they demanded.
At that time, the Embassy of Panama in Cuba issued a statement to clarify that it was not considering requiring a transit visa for Cubans, although the words were marked in bold for the time being. But only two weeks have been enough for the country to change its mind.
In mid-February, Copa announced a suspension of ticket sales to and from Cuba. The Panamanian airline maintains six daily flights from Panama City to Havana and two weekly, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to the Abel Santamaría International Airport in Santa Clara.
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