HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban Miguel Palenzuela, 52, and his wife Ania have been waiting outside the Colombian embassy in Havana for a month, hoping to get a visa to travel through the South American country.
Palenzuela, who commutes from Guanabacoa outside the capital almost every day, says he’d rather make an appointment, but the website is down. Other embassies are just as bad or worse, he says.
“There are too many barriers,” says Palenzuela, sheltering from the Caribbean summer sun under a mango tree. “Like they don’t want us Cubans to travel.”
The Colombian embassy told Reuters that its systems were overwhelmed by a “large number” of applicants and said the country’s upcoming presidential election had also slowed down service.
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Reuters this week spoke to nearly two dozen people queuing outside the embassies of Colombia, Mexico and Panama, countries often used as entry points for illegal migration north to the United States.
The Cubans interviewed by Reuters either declined to give a reason for their travel or said they were shopping or traveling for tourism purposes.
But everyone expressed disappointment that diplomatic and bureaucratic barriers at home and abroad are getting narrower for Cubans seeking to leave the island amid the growing economic crisis.
Authorities have clashed with more than 140,000 Cubans at the US-Mexico border since October, according to the US, in one of the largest migrations from the island in decades.
Cuba accuses the United States of running an illegal immigration pump by maintaining a Cold War economic embargo and ending consular services in Havana for Cubans.
Last week, the United States agreed to ease “legal routes” for migrants at a summit of the Americas, which did not include representatives of the Cuban government. Washington resumed processing visas in Havana in May and intends to issue 20,000 immigrant visas to Cubans a year.
It’s a crack in the door, but still falls short, said Michael Bustamante of the University of Miami.
“We should welcome the long-awaited restoration of consular services at the US Embassy in Havana,” he said. “But compared to the demand, 20,000…seems like a drop in the ocean.”
Outside the embassies of several Latin American countries in Havana, the diplomatic discourse of recent months has been lost in a haze of heat, long lines and rapidly changing demands.
With options for legal migration through the United States limited, many choose to fly to Nicaragua, where visa requirements for Cubans were lifted in November, and then try their luck on the perilous land route north to the US border.
However, skyrocketing prices have led many to look for alternative flights via Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica, among others.
A range of visa requirements, old and new, in these countries has led to confusion and frustration, said Janeris Betancourt, 37, who traveled more than four hours by public transport from Matanzas, outside Havana, to meet at the Panamanian embassy.
Betancourt said she too…