Friday, July 24, 2015

Ecuador, The Route to El Dorado

Ecuador, The Route to El Dorado / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar
Posted on July 23, 2015

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 July 2015 – Four years Ecuador has
been the route of Cubans who want to reach the United States. For many
it was the first step towards the El Dorado of the North. In recent
weeks, a fear has been growing that the South American nation might
toughen the requirements for access to its territory. Entire families
could stay on the island with their bags packed and and dreams broken.

Luis, 27, is the youngest of two brothers. In mid-2014 he put together
the money for a ticket to Quito and left. Single, with no job, no bank
account or property, no consulate would have granted a visa, considering
him as a "potential immigrant". However, Ecuador does not require a visa
for Cubans, nor even ask for a letter of invitation.

The Ecuadorian Constitution adopted in 2008 proclaimed "the principle of
universal citizenship, free movement of all inhabitants of the planet
and the progressive end of foreign status." President Rafael Correa said
at the time that he was determined to "dismantle the invention of the
twentieth century which were passports and visas". And there the Cubans
went en masse.

Healthy and young, Luis was confident that his hands and
entrepreneurship would allow him to make his way anywhere. And so it has
been: in one year, in La Mariscal, he has managed to make money as an
auto mechanic and has saved something to help his family. His obsession
remains the same: hitting the road to take him to Miami, where relatives
have promised a roof and work. In a drawer, he saves a two-dollar bill
that will bring him good luck on the way.

The route from Ecuador to the United States includes a path through
seven countries: Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras,
Guatemala and Mexico. It is a road full of dangers, ranging from
extortion to death. Of all the variables, it is the most feared is
deportation. Returning to the Island becomes the worst nightmare.

Some cross the Darien Gap, 80 miles of tropical jungle extending between
Colombia and Panama. Mountains, passes between mountains, muddy terrain,
crocodile infested rivers and jungles full of beasts. It is in this area
that criminal groups linked to drug trafficking and the guerrillas of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) also operate.

From October 2013 until August 2014, almost 13,400 Cuban immigrants
arrived at the border between the US and Mexico, according to a US
Customs and Border Protection. Many of them made the route that Luis
planned for months. All that's missing is family members in Havana
completing the sale of the family apartment to be able to afford tickets
to Quito. His family already has a buyer. Every night his mother lights
a candle and thinks of Ecuador, the first step on a long road.

Diplomatic sources in the United States Interests Section in Havana, who
preferred anonymity, say that this year the number of Cubans who will
enter the United States, legally or illegally, could exceed 70,000. The
fear that the process of reestablishing relations between Washington and
Havana will put an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act has triggered the

In 2013, it seemed that Quito might turn off the tap of entry for
Cubans. The country started requiring a "letter of invitation" to put
the breaks on the migration avalanche. But a few months later, in 2014,
it eliminated this requirement in virtue of the "excellent framework of
bilateral relations" with Cuba.

The Cuban migratory reform that went into effect in January of 2013 also
contributed to the increase of people leaving for Quito. Now, without
exit visa requirements to leave Cuba, the main obstacle is the purchase
of a plane ticket with prices averaging around $650 from the island.

However, the apparent "open door" policy does not work for everyone.
Ecuadorian authorities reserve the right to decide which Cubans can
enter their country. The decision is taken during an interview with
immigration at the airport. Any inconsistency, any doubt and the
passenger is put back on the plane heading home. Activist and
independent Cuban journalist Ernesto Aquino, was rejected a few weeks
ago when he arrived in the country for a leadership course organized by
an independent entity. He was returned to Havana without appeal.

Among those on official missions* in the South American nation,
desertions are common. To prevent the escape of Cuban doctors the Cuban
Ministry of Health has implemented new policies that include "suspension
from the practice of the profession" of those who "left the service
without authorization." Unable to practice as doctors in Cuba, the
doctors have another motivation to reach the United States.

Barbara, 42, was among the first Cuban who went by way of Ecuador.
Almost ten years ago she made a marriage of convenience and settled in
that country waiting to take the big leap. She was deported to Cuba when
the Panamanian authorities surprised her at the border. Now she is in
Havana, desperate and without a place to live. "I can't stay in my
parents' house because not one more person can fit there," ahe explains.
Her only option now is to cross the Straits of Florida by raft. For her,
the door to Ecuador is closed.

*Translator's note: For example "medical missions" – that is the Cuban
regime's scheme to send doctors abroad as a major source of hard
currency income, as the receiving countries pay much more per doctor
than the doctor is paid.

Source: Ecuador, The Route to El Dorado / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar |
Translating Cuba -

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