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    U.S. says the number of visas issued in Havana increased significantly

    Posted on Saturday, 06.29.13

    U.S. says the number of visas issued in Havana increased significantly
    BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
    JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

    U.S. diplomats in Havana increased the number of visas issued to Cubans
    by about several thousand in recent months, they revealed Friday in
    response to a Granma newspaper column alleging that U.S. consular
    officials trade bribes for visas.

    The column included an odd paragraph implying that island authorities
    are not stopping Cubans from leaving illegally by boat — a statement
    that is clearly false but may spark a quite a stir in a country where
    many people want to emigrate.

    Written by historian Néstor García Iturbide, the column was first
    published in the pro-government Cuban blog La Pupila Insomne — The
    Sleepless Pupil. But its reprint in the Communist Party’s Granma
    newspaper appeared to give it an official seal of approval.

    García’s column focused on his allegation of corruption and complaint of
    restrictive visa policies at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana,
    officially called the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in the absence of
    full diplomatic relations.

    Some Cubans “have paid functionaries to receive their visa,” he wrote.
    “There are functionaries who get angry [when offered bribes], others who
    allow themselves to be loved. The people waiting in line know who is who.”

    Garcia did not identify any corrupt officials by name or citizenship.
    U.S. State Department officials sent from Washington hold the main jobs
    at UNINT’s consular section, but Cuban citizens hired locally handle
    some of the work.

    The USINT immediately issued a statement saying that the mission takes
    all allegations of corruption in its ranks seriously and asking anyone
    with reliable information on such cases to call its main telephone number.

    Garcia also alleged that the USINT has not been issuing enough visas to
    Cubans who want to visit the United States, “while spending million of
    dollars on Radio and TV Marti to try fruitlessly to deliver the image of
    the United States to Cubans.”

    Revealing previously unknown and surprisingly large figures, the USINT
    statement said 16,767 Cubans received visitors visas in the first six
    months of 2013, compared to 9,369 in the same period last year — a 79
    percent spike — and that another 29,000 received migrant visas in 2012.
    Under a 1994 bilateral accord, Washington promised to issue at least
    20,000 migrant documents to Cubans per year.

    The spikes were the result of stepped-up visa interviews by US consular
    officials in Havana, from 150 to 600 per day, to clear out a large and
    years-old backlog of applications. But Havana also greatly eased its
    restrictions on Cubans’ travel abroad as of Jan. 14.

    As for Garcia’s complaint that the 600 Cubans a day who apply for U.S.
    visas must each pay a $160 fee to USINT — $600,000 per week by his
    estimate — the USINT statement said the fee was the same at all U.S.
    embassies around the world. Cuba has one of the most expensive passports
    in the world, costing $140 for six years.

    Replying to the column’s complaint that USINT rejects most of the
    applicants for visitor’s visas, the statement said: “To qualify for a
    tourist visa, applicants must demonstrate strong ties to Cuba that will
    compel them to return after a short visit to the United States. That is
    very difficult for many Cuban applicants.”

    Cuba analysts speculated that the Garcia column was Havana’s opening
    shot for the first U.S.-Cuba migration talks, scheduled for July 17,
    since their suspension more than two years ago because of the detention
    in Cuba of U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross.

    But they were baffled by Garcia’s apparent claim that the government
    allows people to leave illegally by boat. Havana in fact interdicts
    illegal departures, although there have been reports of officials taking
    bribes to turn a blind eye to them.

    Garcia wrote that some of the Cubans who had been turned for U.S.
    tourist visas “were mentioning that they would not return again to apply
    for a visa, that with some friends they would prepare an illegal trip by
    sea.”

    That trip, he added, “would be to try to reach U.S. territory, as some
    have done, above all with the assurance that the Cuban authorities are
    not intervening in these intents, and when at the most they provide
    advice on how to avoid risking the lives of those on the trip.”

    Garcia, who has written several essays on Cuba-U.S. relations, could not
    be reached to explain his comment. But Havana residents said there
    seemed to be little awareness of his odd assertion on the streets of the
    Cuban capital Friday.

    Source: “U.S. says the number of visas issued in Havana increased
    significantly – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com” –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/29/3475914/us-says-the-number-of-visas-issued.html