HAVANA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Cubans protested at the Ecuadorean embassy in Cuba on Friday, a day after the Andean nation announced they would need visas to enter the country as of December 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 Ecuadorean 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.
The embassy said at a press conference that the web page for applying for the visa is up and running, and Cubans will have to work with airlines to change their tickets if they are not able to obtain a visa in time.
“Governments can’t intervene in commercial policies… However… we are aware that the airlines are willing to issue refunds,” said Ecuadorean Consul Soraya Blanca Encalada.
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 travelled 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.
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.