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Cubans crowd Panamanian consulate after visa requirement

Hundreds of Cubans packed the Panamanian consulate in Havana on Wednesday after the Central American country demanded a transit visa from the islanders.

Police cordoned off the perimeter of a park near the consular headquarters with yellow tape as Cubans with travel plans awaited answers. The number of Cubans seeking to carry out consular procedures was higher than normal and could be an indication of the number of islanders seeking to leave the country in the midst of a difficult economic situation exacerbated by the pandemic and the US sanctions that intensified in the past government of donald trump

The Panamanian measure also comes into force a week after the United States embassy in the Cuban capital announced the restart of consular services on a limited basis for family reunification visas suspended since 2017. The date on which those would resume was not specified. services.

Panama is the second country in Central America to impose this measure after Costa Rica, in February. Other South American nations, such as Ecuador, began requiring entry visas for Cubans before the pandemic in an effort to regulate that migration. However, Panama’s measure could be particularly harsh since it is the point they use as a transit point to follow the United States.

Several Cubans interviewed by The Associated Press said that their plans were to pass through Panama on their way to Nicaragua and expressed fear that the new Panamanian requirement would cause them to lose their ticket because they did not have time to comply with that requirement.

“I don’t know what the purpose is” of the transit visa, Yusleydy Garcia, 30, who plans to travel through Panama with her 14-year-old daughter, told the AP in the coming days.

Until now, Panama’s immigration regulations allowed Cubans to transit for 12 hours and required a visa for tourists, a procedure for which the islanders must make an appointment for interviews in Havana.

For years, the Central American country has faced a flow of Cubans who cross irregularly through the dangerous jungle of Darién on a route from South America to the north of the continent. That flow has dropped lately. Many Cubans, including young people and professionals, have left the island increasingly using the route through Nicaragua, which does not require a visa.

Cuban Garcia, who plans to travel with her daughter on March 30, said that according to Panama’s new requirements, the transit visa must be processed 15 business days before the trip, so some who said they were traveling this week fear losing their flights. .

“I see it very badly, many people have their flight tonight, tomorrow or in the next few days. Many people have sold their house, all their belongings to buy the ticket, ”said Laura Varela, a 28-year-old pregnant woman who came to accompany her husband Jorge Rodríguez who was processing a tourist visa. The couple plans to travel to Panama in the middle of the year.

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