Cubans Find Door Half Open – Part 1,2

QUITO, Jul 29, 2010 (IPS) – Carlos sold his house, Juana got a divorce so she could remarry and obtain resident status, and Pedro bought a “letter of invitation” with 10 years of savings… These sorts of stories are common amongst Cubans anxious to make a new life in Ecuador.

What does Ecuador have that they want? It is perhaps the only country in the world that does not require Cubans to obtain an entry visa, and offers the chance — after some paperwork — to settle there permanently.

The government of President Rafael Correa declared a policy of free entry into the country in 2006 and abolished the visa requirement for citizens from any country. All visitors are authorised to stay 90 days.

The Ecuadorean Embassy in Havana does not track how many Cubans have travelled to this Andean nation, because most do so as tourists, and if they stay fewer than 90 days there is no record of their visit. But migration officials in Quito state that subtracting the entries and departures of Cuban citizens since 2006, the immigrants — documented or not — number around 7,800.

Although the influx of visitors from Cuba began in 2006, the boom occurred in 2008 and 2009 when 38,000 Cubans travelled to Ecuador. In the first half of 2010 there were already more than 13,000.

Even so, it is not easy for a Cuban to get to Ecuador. To begin the process to travel from the socialist-run island requires an up-to-date identity card, a letter of non-objection from one’s employer or school, and a letter of invitation meets the set requirements.

Such letters must be written personally by family members or friends residing in Ecuador, in a document duly certified by a notary public, which costs 100 to 200 dollars. Then it has to be legalised at the Cuban consulate, which is entrusted with sending it to Cuba, at an additional cost of about 200 dollars.

In Cuba, it is delivered to the recipient through an official international body of the Ministry of Justice and is valid for one year from the date it was granted. The word in Cuba is that there are many “friends” who will send the letter of invitation — for a price.

With those papers, the traveller can obtain an exit permit from Cuba, a document known as the “tarjeta blanca” (white card), which costs 150 Cuban convertible pesos (known as CUCs). On top of that, a passport is needed, valid for two years, which costs 55 CUCs, and an extension costs 20 CUCs. The total comes to about 222 dollars, based on the official exchange rate.

The fact that nearly 60,000 Cubans have visited Ecuador since 2006 shows that all those obstacles are surmountable. And there are plenty of seats on the five direct flights from Havana to Quito weekly, and 12 more via Panama.

In this Andean capital it is easy to pick out what has become the stereotype of Cuban immigrants: new white training shoes, dark-coloured jeans, and heavily decorated T-shirts, which seem to be popular among Cuban men and women alike.

Cubans have become part of the urban landscape in the three neighbourhoods where they have concentrated. Most live near the Quito airport in La Florida district.

“Pure coincidence — it has nothing to do with the United States,” Quito historian Alfonso Ortiz said, referring to the southeastern U.S. state of Florida, where Miami is located, home to nearly one million Cubans and their descendants. Here, Florida “is the name of an old estate dating back to the Spanish colonial era,” he explained.

Today this neighbourhood has many bars and restaurants, salons, bakeries, tailors and other businesses — all run by Cuban men and women.

“When I arrived, I stayed with a Cuban friend here in the neighbourhood, and then I was able to rent a place in this area,” said Diocles, 46, who spoke with IPS in the doorway of one of the restaurants.

He talked about trying to obtain his official papers to stay here. “I have to move forward however I can,” he said, directing the statement at another Cuban, in his fifties, who asked not to be identified.

Just then, a small van from the refrigeration company “Quba” pulled up in front of the restaurant. Its two occupants entered the restaurant. Both Cuban, they said they have their documents in order, which allowed them to open a workshop. They didn’t give their names, but said they are working “very happily.”

However, there are others who have stayed in Ecuador illegally. “I’m working as a security guard, with 48-hour shifts,” said another man dining in the restaurant, who had been hesitant to speak from the beginning. “I don’t have papers, which I know is risky, but I have to make a living,” he said.

In a grocery on Mañosca Street, in north-central Quito, IPS interviewed two more Cubans. This is another area where many Caribbean families have settled, though Cuban-run businesses are not as visible here.

They preferred to give only their first names. “I’ve been in Ecuador two years and haven’t yet sorted out my papers,” said Juan Antonio. However, Pedro has obtained Ecuadorean citizenship by marrying a citizen of this country.

This channel for obtaining legal residency has led to hundreds of “marriages of convenience,” which end in divorce as soon as the citizenship documents arrive.

“I paid 1,000 dollars for the marriage, and have to pay another 500 for the divorce,” admitted Pedro, adding that he has not seen the Ecuadorean woman he married since the wedding. “It’s all done through a lawyer,” he said.

Hundreds of weddings between Cubans and Ecuadoreans have taken place in the building. In addition, people from Cuba have to visit the National Civil Registry Office to apply for or renew their national identity document or “cédula”, whether as residents or naturalised citizens.

Under Ecuadorean law, foreigners who marry natural-born citizens of this country or who can prove that they have had a stable cohabiting relationship for at least two years with an Ecuadorean citizen can become naturalised citizens.

This has given rise to a surge in marriages, many of them marriages of convenience, which end in divorce shortly after the Cuban member of the couple becomes a citizen.

“In the last few weeks, the number of marriages involving Cubans has dropped,” a National Civil Registry Office employee who requested anonymity told IPS. “I think they were scared by the reports of forged documents.”

He was referring to the annulment of 199 marriages, mainly involving Cuban men and Ecuadorean women, as well as the revocation of the national identity documents granted to 170 Cubans. The decision was made by the left-wing government of Rafael Correa after authorities discovered that the weddings and identity cards were based on forged documents.

Foreign Minister Raúl Patiño and the government’s Transparency Secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, announced the measure on Jun. 30, when they also requested the removal and prosecution of two notary publics in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city.

Marcos Díaz Casquete and Julio Olvera Espinoza are accused of certifying that certain couples had lived together for more than two years. But in some of the cases, the Cuban citizens involved had been in the country less than three months.

An investigation by El Comercio, a Quito newspaper, reported that in nearly all of the cases of forged documents, the papers had been issued in Guayaquil by two Chilean lawyers who live in Quito. They disappeared after Roldán first referred publicly to the case on Mar. 30.

The parties involved reportedly paid the Chilean couple a minimum of 2,600 dollars for work visas and 3,500 dollars for Ecuadorean nationality via recognition of civil unions.

Of that total, 1,500 dollars were paid up front, and the documents were available within a month.

The investigations by Mónica Rivera, the prosecutor handling the case, found that none of those involved had even been to Guayaquil or had met the women who testified that they lived with the men.

“We feel cheated,” one of the men involved, who was not identified, told El Comercio. “We thought things were done here like they are in Cuba, where you give your papers to a lawyer and he arranges everything legally.”

Ecuadorean citizenship enables Cubans to travel back and forth to their country of origin without having to meet complex requirements, like a letter of invitation.

According to government figures on the number of entries and departures by foreign nationals in Ecuador, some 7,800 Cubans are currently living legally or illegally in this country of 13.5 million people.

Hundreds of Cubans residing here legally are involved in trade, carrying clothing and accessories back to their home country. They are frequently seen in busy markets lugging enormous canvas suitcases full of garments.

“The Cubans are really good customers, although they’re not buying as much from us as they did before,” Raúl Tipantaxi, who sells printed T-shirts in the Centro Comercial Granada, a shopping complex in the historic centre of the Ecuadorean capital, told IPS. He said other vendors have the same impression of Cubans.

Sales of clothes from Ecuador to Cuba began to surge when restrictions for visits to Cuba were tightened on Cubans living in the United States.

But in Havana, people tend to prefer clothing items from the U.S., which they say is of better quality, and now that President Barack Obama has eased some of the travel restrictions, it is easier to obtain.

To apply for an exit permit in order to settle in Ecuador, Cubans need a cédula, a work card or student I.D. card, a marriage certificate issued at least 90 days earlier if the aim is to be reunited with a foreign spouse, and a letter of invitation.

Because of the pressure to obtain residency papers, there are now Cuban intermediaries in Quito. A Cuban dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase can usually be found outside the National Civil Registry Office.

One morning, IPS saw three women and a man contact him separately in the space of three hours. They gave him names, I.D. numbers and telephone numbers of contacts in Ecuador willing to be listed as employers or even to get married. Cubans who spoke to IPS commented that in these marriages of convenience, the Ecuadorean partner receives between 500 and 2,000 dollars, which comes on top of the lawyer’s charges.

The intermediary serves his clients right there, on the sidewalk. He works with at least four other Cubans, to whom he hands the information he gets from the Cubans who approach him. The National Civil Registry Office official who spoke to IPS, watching the same comings and goings, says he hopes everything is done legally.

The policy of not requiring visas from any foreign nationals is part of the concept of “universal citizenship” laid out by the constitution approved in 2008 in Ecuador.

But in a modification of the policy, since 2009, Colombian citizens have been required to provide a certificate issued in their country and registered with an Ecuadorean consulate showing that they have no criminal record.

The new policy was adopted in response to the huge influx of Colombians forced to flee that country’s decades-old armed conflict.

An estimated 300,000 Colombians are now living in Ecuador, 58,000 of whom have been granted official refugee status by the state. However, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers that 130,000 other refugee applications should be approved.


About Particular Cuba
Particular Cuba organizes travel to Cuba. Hotel booking, car rental, package tours, excursions, flights to Cuba.

2 Responses to Cubans Find Door Half Open – Part 1,2

  1. Thanks for posting this article to share great knowledge about marriage.
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  2. I never knew that an estimated 300,000 Colombians are now living in Ecuador. What is going to happen to the other refugees whose applications are turned down?

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