Visas or No Visas, that is the Question

By José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez on June 30, 2022

US Embassy in Havana, photo: Minrex

Olga Lidia was very hesitant at first, when she was proposed to reach the United States irregularly through Central America. At her age, she believed she was not physically fit to undertake a journey that would take her through countries, jungles, rivers and put her life in the hands of several coyotes. What she was not prepared for was to see how she was separated from her daughter that day when the traffickers told her that her relatives in Miami had not paid the full price agreed upon before the start of the journey.

Michel sold all her belongings in Camagüey to travel three times to Guyana with his wife, hoping to obtain visas to legally enter the United States. The last time he experienced perhaps the biggest surprise, when his application was approved, but his wife’s was not, under an argument that he could not understand. They embraced as they left the U.S. consulate, uncertain about whether they should stay together, or separate, so that each would have to bet on their own luck.

Olegario had become accustomed in recent years to travel regularly to Tucson, Arizona, to see his grandchildren, until in 2019 they drastically suspended flights from Cuba. He always thought the worst thing of all was getting on a plane twice and enduring the turbulence. So when it was explained to him that this time it would only be one flight to Managua and then he would have to continue by road, he did not dismiss the idea. Everything changed when the bus in which he was traveling plunged into a ravine and he saw his life spinning around until it was extinguished.

These three characters and their respective circumstances are fictional, but at the same time they represent the experiences of thousands of Cubans, who overnight had to change their life plans, stop seeing their relatives, or were forced to make crazy decisions, for the simple reason that as of 2017 the U.S. government decided not to respect the migration agreements signed with Cuba in 1994, 1995 and in January of that year.

After the last of these agreements both countries had managed to reduce to inconsequential numbers the arrival of Cubans through irregular means at the U.S. borders. This could mean the most cherished goal for the United States in its migratory relations with any neighboring country, but with none of them (except Cuba) has it achieved such a result so far.

In the years immediately prior to 2017, U.S. authorities had been complying not only with the commitment to grant 20,000 or more immigrant visas for Cuban applicants, but had introduced new practices, such as multiple-entry visas for five years, all of which made human movement from both shores more predictable.

But the situation changed in the blink of an eye, starting with the fabrication of the argument of alleged “sonic attacks” against U.S. diplomatic personnel in Havana, a rather primitive justification for closing the consular services of that mission. Today it is already known that it was all a crude fabrication and that its promoters have received large sums of money in return.

After a year of being elected, and being in absolute silence about the normalization or not of such services, Joe Biden’s administration announced this past March 3 that it would “initiate the limited resumption of some immigrant visa services as part of the broader expansion of the functions” of its embassy in Cuba.

This type of news in itself generates mobilization, states of opinion and expectations of many families. In the United States it is a practice that these announcements are made as trial balloons, to know what support or rejection they generate, in the population, or in the political media.

Therefore, when the State Department said on April 6 that the resumption of immigrant visa processing would begin in May and would be only for parents of U.S. citizens, but indicating also that the burden of service would still remain in Georgetown, Guyana, suspicions were raised as to the real purpose of the original announcement.

Even without having changed anything in practice, the 34th round of migration talks between the two countries took place on April 21, in which the two delegations ratified the validity of the agreements in that matter and the Cuban representatives referred to the nonsense of forcing potential migrants to travel to Guyana and to do the paperwork from there.

It was not until May 3 that the press media used by the US government for its official campaigns began to talk about the “resumption of migratory procedures” in Havana, without any further details, but rather sowing new doubts.

It is worth mentioning that all this informative pilgrimage was taking place in the midst of other U.S. actions through third parties, supposedly to reduce the possibilities of Cuban travelers who left their country legally initiating into an irregular traffic pattern to the United States.

Ultimately, the White House assured on May 16 its willingness to respect the total of 20,000 annual visas for Cuban emigrants, but always processing the vast majority of their applications in Guyana, not Havana. On June 9, the US embassy in the Cuban capital informed that in addition to visas for parents of US citizens, it would consider spouses and children under 21 years of age.

But the truth is that none of these categories contribute to the total of 20,000 visas per year, agreed under the immigration agreements, and that consular procedures in Havana remain very restricted and new limits are still being imposed.

While in the past medical check-ups of potential migrants could be performed in Cuban provincial hospitals, at the moment the embassy only accepts those performed in a single hospital in the capital. Why?

Step by step, the resumption of flights between Florida and several Cuban airports outside Havana has begun in mid-June, an action that also generates more demand for consular activity by the respective diplomatic headquarters.

There is no plausible justification to justify the mess generated around this issue. It has already been demonstrated that the arguments used to generate this crisis were false, the intention to close the legal migratory channel to increase the “pressure on the social pot” in Cuba has been evident. Nothing new under the sun.

Although it is not a topic commonly addressed by the media, these tenuous changes also respond to enormous pressure exerted by Cubans living in Miami and other cities, not represented by the traditional political clique, which in response came to generate proposals as absurd and outdated as transferring consular procedures from Guyana to the illegal Guantanamo Naval Base.

All that remains to be seen now is whether the White House maintains sovereignty over foreign policy towards Cuba, or whether it bows in genuflection to the Republican operatives in Florida, or to the underworld in Union City. They should have realized by now that both complacencies led them to make fools of themselves at the recent unpopulated summit in Los Angeles.

Another time we will ask about the likely economic compromise between US elected officials and human traffickers. The latter have seen their pockets swell profusely in recent years thanks to the actions of the former.

Perhaps the fainthearted will act in time and save others like Olga Lidia, Michel and Olegarios.

José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez served as Cuba’s Ambassador to the US from 2012 – 2020, he is currently Director of the MINREX Center for International Policy Research.

Source: Cubadebate, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English