Cubans protest in Havana as Costa Rica tightens visa requirements

Cubans protest in Havana as Costa Rica tightens visa requirements

HAVANA, Feb 22 (Reuters) – At least 200 Cubans protested near Costa Rica’s embassy in Havana on Monday against tighter visa requirements for Cubans passing through the Central American nation on the way to Nicaragua.

Demand for Havana-San Jose flights has soared after Managua in November lifted visa requirements for Cuban nationals. Many flights include multiple connections in neighbouring Latin American nations.

Costa Rica’s decision last week to require that Cubans obtain a “transit visa” outraged many of the protesters.

“We are requesting a transit visa as citizens with the right to travel, and they are … asking for requirements that no Cuban can comply with,” said Redel Quevedo, who had travelled 600 km (372.82 miles) from Las Tunas, in eastern Cuba, to the embassy in Havana.

“All Cubans are giving everything to be able to make the trip,” Quevedo said in an interview as he waited under the hot Caribbean sun for a response from Costa Rican authorities.

Applicants for a Costa Rica transit visa must provide criminal records spanning 10 years and prove “economic solvency,” according to requirements posted outside the embassy in Havana, though it was not immediately clear what proof was required.

“We are going to be in Costa Rica for seven or eight hours,” said Oliet Dominguez, of Havana, who said his flight to Nicaragua involved connections in Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador. “I think that this is an act of xenophobia against us.”

Costa Rica’s embassy in Cuba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Costa Rican authorities have previously said the decision to require the transit visa was aimed at assuring “orderly and dignified migration.”

All the Cubans interviewed by Reuters at the embassy on Monday said they were travelling to Nicaragua to shop or for tourism.

Air ticket prices to the Central American nation have more than tripled to as much as $3,500 in the three months since Nicaragua lifted the visa requirement for Cubans, according to posts on classified service Revolico and several of those interviewed by Reuters at the embassy. That is several times the average annual salary in Cuba.

Cuba’s economy has been battered by mounting U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting widespread shortages of food and medicine and the largest anti-government protests since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

The economic crisis has also spurred a growing wave of Cuban migrants seeking to enter the United States, according to U.S. immigration statistics.

Cuba says it advocates legal, orderly and safe migration, and has blamed U.S. policy for encouraging Cubans to risk their lives to leave the island.

Washington has discouraged Cubans from attempting to migrate to the United States.