Cuban citizens protest new Ecuador visa requirements

Hundreds of Cubans protest in front of Ecuadorian embassy in Cuba following issuance of new visa requirements to enter Ecuador

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A man holds a sign that reads in Spanish: "My visa or my money", as people protest near the Ecuadorean embassy a day after the announcement that Cubans would need visas to enter Ecuador as of December 1, Havana, November 27, 2015.

Hundreds of Cubans protested at the Ecuadorian embassy in Cuba on Friday, a day after the Andean nation announced it would need visas to enter the country as of Dec. 1.

The Cubans waved their passports and plane tickets and said they were angry because they had already bought tickets under the previous no-visa policy of Ecuador and wanted passage or their money back.

An Ecuadorian diplomat told the crowd they would have to go online and get a 90-day tourism visa and speak to the airlines about refunds.

Cuban police secured the embassy, which they said was closed. There was no violence.

"Now they are saying we can't travel to Ecuador because of the Cubans who are skipping out. That's not our fault!" said Ivan Balera, 51, who said he spent over $1,000 on his ticket.

Ecuador said it made the decision at a regional meeting on Tuesday in El Salvador to discuss the future of thousands of Cubans stranded at the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border en route to the United States.

"We decided to impose the visa requirement for Cuban citizens in order to discourage the flow of people seeking to reach the United States," Ecuador's foreign minister, Xavier Lasso, told reporters on Thursday.

Thousands of Cubans have traveled to Ecuador over the past decade, some to purchase goods for resale at home and others to settle. Many to use the country as an entry point for making the perilous trek through Central America to the Mexican border with the United States, where they are granted entry and residency, unlike other migrants.

"Everyone here has bought tickets under the no-visa policy and now all of a sudden they tell us we cannot travel to Ecuador without a visa," said Mariela Lourdes, one of the crowd gathered outside of the embassy.

The office of Ecuador airline Tame in Havana posted a sign on the door directing Cubans with tickets for after December 1 to contact the embassy.

"Nothing has been specified yet. We are supposed to receive instructions on Monday," said a Tame office worker in Havana who declined to give her name. She said it had not yet been decided whether Tame would change its refund policy.