Canadian Government Reinstates Some Visa Services for Cubans at Embassy in Havana

Montreal demonstration, June 9, 2019, demands Canadian government restore consular
services at its embassy in Havana.

On July 29, the Canadian government announced that its embassy in Havana would be reinstating some of the services suspended abruptly on May 8 with the closure of the embassy's visa processing section. Suspension of those services forced most Cubans to travel to a third country to obtain the visas required for them to visit, study or work in Canada. As of August 1, Cuban residents are once again able to get their fingerprints and photos taken, as well as drop off their passports and pick up visas at the embassy in Havana.

Despite the restoration of certain in-country services, there are still barriers, including delays and prohibitive costs, for those applying for permanent residency, for spouses and close family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who must still travel outside of Cuba for any required medical exams and interviews. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Mexico City are the only available options for interviews. Added to the cost of airline tickets and accommodations, Cuban citizens must obtain a visa in order to travel to Mexico.

In January, Ottawa reduced staffing at its embassy in Havana by 50 per cent, citing "safety" issues, after a number of its personnel reported experiencing symptoms of an undetermined origin, not unlike those previously reported by some U.S. embassy personnel in Havana. In spite of no evidence regarding the source of the symptoms being uncovered by extensive investigations carried out by U.S. and Cuban experts, the Trump administration claims its diplomats suffered health "attacks" for which Cuba is to blame and has withdrawn all but a handful of its embassy staff and discontinued all visa processing for Cubans in Havana. Given that this occurred right as Trump was reversing initiatives begun under the Obama administration to normalize relations with Cuba, and acting to further attack Cuba in different ways, including for its support of Venezuela, there were concerns about the Trudeau government's motive for following the U.S. lead in drastically cutting embassy staff and closing its visa office in Havana.

Public Outcry Demands Reopening of Visa Office

Toronto picket June 9, 2019, demanding consular services resume at Canadian embassy
in Havana.

Canada's decision to partially restore the suspended visa processing services on August 1 follows a public outcry. Within two days of the announcement being made the Canadian Network on Cuba issued a statement expressing concern over what it said were hostile actions on Canada's part and calling for the visa office in Havana to be reopened. The Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies wrote to complain about three distinguished Cuban scholars who were unable to attend their 50th anniversary conference in Toronto because they never received their visas despite having applied more than three months in advance and having paid for all their travel and lodging expenses. The letter said the Canadian government's conduct in this matter did not "meet the standards we expect and demand from the Canadian public service."

In May and June, protests were held in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto by friends of Cuba and Cubans resident in Canada. Opposition was also expressed by people in Cuba. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Ambassador to Canada Josefina Vidal made a strong case in their meetings with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and other Canadian government officials about there being no justification for closing the visa office in Havana. Ambassador Vidal said at a public meeting in Toronto that the Canadian government should reconsider its decision so it would not be remembered as the government that ended Canada-Cuba people-to-people relations. Initiatives were also taken on social media. One of these was a video featuring people in Cuba and Canada giving personal testimonials about the hardship and distress the Canadian government's drastic action was causing them.

On July 17 a national day of action was held and a petition launched by the Canadian Network on Cuba to demand the government reopen its visa office and fully restore all visa processing services in Havana. People were encouraged to use the day to raise the same demand with elected officials by phone, email and on social media with the hashtags #CdnVisasforCuba, #UnBlockCuba and #NoMasBloqueo. Less than two weeks later, the government announced it was restoring some of the services it said on May 8 would no longer be offered at its embassy in Havana.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 25 - August 31, 2019

Article Link:
Canadian Government Reinstates Some Visa Services for Cubans at Embassy in Havana


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