14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 22 February 2022 — “The protest was dissolved in a ‘peaceful way’: there was no aggression or use of force, but there was a total refusal for us to remain there.” Eliécer, 34, is one of the Cubans who demonstrated this Monday in front of the Costa Rican consulate in Havana after the announcement by this nation that it would require a transit visa for travelers en route to a third country. “There were horses, policemen, guards, repressive forces,” he describes, and as this newspaper found.
Eliécer worked as a tour guide until, in 2017, he had a run-in with a police officer. Since then, his life became one of constant pressure. “The networks began to control me, to summon me, to visit me, they prohibited me from doing my job,” he tells 14ymedio. “Given my refusal to accept any blackmail, my life and that of my family became a constant uncertainty and I made the decision to leave.”
The way would be, of course, Nicaragua, which last November decreed it was “visa free” for Cubans. To do this, Eliécer sold all his belongings, including his motorcycle, his air conditioner, his automatic washing machine and, the most painful for him, a T-shirt collection, which he treasured like precious stones. “It may sound laughable, but to me it’s not,” he apologizes.
The young man bought his ticket on January 29, through a manager, for Copa Airlines and Avianca, for a journey lasting a total of 32 hours and making three stops between Havana and Managua: Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador. He paid $3,600 for it.
Although Costa Rica announced the transit visa requirement last Thursday, Eliécer found out over the weekend, “inoperative days in terms of paperwork.” The young man regrets that to request this immigration document, the Costa Rican authorities “ask for a number of ridiculous requirements, because we are not even going to enter their national territory.” For example, a bank account statement, which he was only able to obtain this Monday, and a criminal record certificate, which he learned upon arrival at the diplomatic headquarters would be useless if it was not legalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The people who had withdrawn their money to change dollars were in a limbo,” he explains, “because they had no way to prove economic solvency.”
All this caused discomfort in the crowd gathered on Fifth Avenue, between 66th and 68th, in Miramar. The situation made the consul go out to calm things down, says Eliécer. “He gave a rather vague and justifying answer that it was not the responsibility of the consulate or even the Government of Costa Rica, but of Migration,” he details, and protests: “Obviously they are arguing about responsibility. Those gathered there only demanded “that everyone who obtained a ticket before this regulation would be allowed to fly with a special permit, or they would simply arrange the visa for us as soon as possible,” but their requests were ignored. “They replied that it was impossible, because they had to process that as a consulate formality that has its own time parameters.”
Once the crowd had dispersed and a whole surveillance deployment was launched around the embassy, no official came out again, despite the fact that there are public hours open in the afternoon. “The Sepsa guards, the consulate security guards, talked to us and they simply told us that the person who was supposed to deal with us would not come out, that we should come back the next day.” In addition, they were warned: “In order for them to prepare, cancel those flights, because they won’t have time.”
They also stopped answering the phone. “They have a number available to serve the people, but it wasn’t working,” says the young man. “I made 37 consecutive calls to see if it was a busy issue, but no, I never got through. Other people also tried and couldn’t; the phone was busy all the time.”
In the case of Eliécer, this cancellation is complicated by the attitude of the airlines. Copa, he says, would return the amount paid for the route it covered (Havana-Panama-Costa Rica) with a penalty of 200 dollars, but Avianca, which covered Costa Rica-El Salvador-Managua, would not refund anything. “Avianca brazenly steals our money and doesn’t even show its face,” he denounces. “When you cancel, you lose all the money.”
Still, his situation was not the worst, he says. “There was a car at the protest with people from Sancti Spíritus who had left their house at four in the morning to get here early. Those people, of course, had to return to their province without a solution,” he narrates. “There were older people, children, people from various municipalities, people who were very annoyed and others who were upset because it was all a robbery.”
The demand, he insists, is very simple: “That they let us fly, because there are many people who have sold their houses, their lives, in order to escape from this disaster of a country and basically there are many who right now are without a single thing of any kind.”
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