US Eliminates Crucial Link Between US and Cuba: the 5-Year Visa
FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2015 file photo, people wait their turn to enter the U.S. Interests Section to apply for U.S. travel visas, in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

The State Department eliminates crucial link between US and Cuba: the 5-Year visa, affecting every Cuban but especially new entrepreneurs who have to travel to get products that don’t exist in the island.

The eliminating a coveted five-year tourist visa for Cubans, deals a heavy blow to entrepreneurs and Cuban members of divided families, who used the visas to see relatives in the United States and forces Cubans to make a costly and complicated trip to a third country like Mexico or Panama every single time they want to visit the U.S. That’s because the U.S. withdrew most of its non-essential diplomatic staff from Havana in September 2017 and stopped issuing visas of almost any type in Cuba.

Until now, Cubans who saved the money and mastered the complexities of successfully applying for a visa in a third country would receive a visa eliminating the need to apply again for another five years. That possibility will disappear on March 18 when the B2 visa will only allow a single entry for a three-month stay, Mara Tekach, the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires, said in a video posted on Facebook.

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Tekach said the change was due to the need to achieve reciprocity between the visa rules of the U.S. and Cuba, which issues Americans single-entry tourist visas allowing a stay of up to three months.

However, the Cuban visa application process is a formality, with airlines and travel agencies authorized to hand out visas to anyone who requests one and pays $50 as part of the purchase of an airline ticket or travel package. Cubans must pay $160, plus airfare and hotel costs in a third country, often to see their visa application swiftly rejected.

“Invoking reciprocity here is beyond insulting,” said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American History at Florida International University and an expert on contemporary Cuba who advocates for closer bilateral relations. “The announcement will come as a real blow to many Cubans, only the latest of the Trump policy years.”

Cubans score one of the highest rates of rejections for tourist visa applications.

The Obama administration extended the visas for Cubans to five years in 2013, shortly before it announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with Havana.

But the U.S.-Cuba relations have worsened with President Donald Trump in the White House. Trump has accused Havana of failing to protect 26 U.S. diplomats affected by alleged acoustic attacks, and reduced staffing at the embassy by 60 percent.

The seemingly obscure change in visa rules in fact is one of the harshest measures against Cuba taken by the Trump administration because of the effect it will have on the informal supply chain for the communist-run island’s small but vibrant private sector. Virtually all of the supplies used by Cuban entrepreneurs from barbers to restaurant owners are either stolen from state enterprises or brought in suitcases from capitalist countries by business owners or “mules,” couriers with visas who are paid to haul in the hundreds of varieties of products unavailable in Cuba’s stagnant, centrally planned economy.

The U.S. five-year visa not only allowed frequent trips to Miami, Latin American countries such as Mexico would allow Cubans with the U.S. visa to enter automatically.

US Eliminates Crucial Link Between US and Cuba: the 5-Year Visa