Cubans, stuck between the Mexican embassy and the deep blue sea

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We don’t remember better times with the Mexican Embassy in Cuba. Among the thousands of inhabitants of the island who every year need an appointment to apply for a visa of any kind or legalization procedures, the shared memory on this institution is linked to its inaccessible system and macabre way of getting appointments and the constant complaints about their illicit sale. .

Users of a band of more than 29,000 nationals on the social network Facebook have described it concretely: getting an appointment at the Havana embassy is practically impossible. So much so that, according to internet users commenting on the official account from the headquarters itself on Twitter, some have spent up to three years trying to get an appointment to get things done.

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On the odyssey of the Cubans who have to take steps at the Mexican headquarters, there have been, at least since 2018, press kits that reflect the anguish of those who request an appointment. Through digital media, social networks and official channels, Cubans shared their testimonies and experiences on “the problems” of getting an appointment online.

The platform organized for the nomination process received the name of Mexitel until March 1 of this year, when it became Citas Cuba. By one name or another, the disagreements around the system have been the same for the past five years.

Cubans have been complaining for years about difficulties in accessing the platform due to connectivity problems on the island and the usual oversaturation of the page, which even prevents them from completing the data and validating the registration, even if the steps at the bottom of the page are followed. to the letter.

And while, in response to systematic user concerns, the online dating service has been updated with the inclusion of new authentication steps to “avoid” transgressions, under no circumstances access to appointment was guaranteed in a simple, “free and legal” manner as established.

The procedure for obtaining appointments has also not been consistent. It changed from a weekly system to a quarterly system. But he failed to be more efficient for it.

In 2018, the Mexitel system was regularly activated every Friday around 9:30 a.m. (Cuban time), and each week “a certain number” of appointments were made available to Cubans for document legalization and visa application procedures. .

Alternatively, online appointments were activated for one week exclusively for document legalization and visa application procedures with the authorization of the National Institute for Migration and, the following week, only for visa applications. without permission from the National Institute for Migration. Thus, users entered the week that corresponded to their intervention and tried to schedule their interview.

In 2019, although the system continued to open on Fridays, the deadline for appointments was extended every fortnight. Currently, what is established is the quarterly opening.

Meanwhile, the notice of opening by the consular headquarters, which was previously done on Wednesdays when the system was activated on Fridays, is now done imminently (same day). This is an element that contributes to the disorientation of users who, according to what they declare on the networks, remain in permanent uncertainty.

It is worth pointing out that in 2022, the annual number of appointments has increased. Between January 4 and March 31, just over 4,000 appointments were opened. Meanwhile, on April 23 this year, the diplomatic headquarters announcement the opening, on the same day, of 16,000 new appointments for the period from May to December.

However, according to netizens, appointments for all these months of 2022 sold out almost immediately. It is therefore obvious that the number of appointments available is still insufficient given the real demand.

In this scenario, the combination of the need to perform a procedure and the near impossibility of getting an appointment through the only established route leaves Cubans in a very bad situation. Or what amounts to the same, in the hands of those who promise to “solve” by other means, and always with money at stake.

In a troubled river… complaints for illicit sale of appointments

At least since 2018, there have been complaints from people dedicated to selling dates. And the trend has been proportional between increased demand and complaints of rising “parallel costs”.

Thus, when the appointments were scheduled weekly, a press report said that “the safest way (to get one) was to pay 300 or 350 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) to a person who lived near the embassy, ​​which guaranteed you an appointment and a visa ten years for Mexico”.

Only a year later, in 2019, a press release already mentioned that the costs reached approximately 800 CUC.

The demand for visas that drove up these figures has increased in a context where Mexico has become one of the favorite countries of Cubans for shopping tourism to then resell on the island the goods purchased at competitive prices in this country.

During the years 2018 and 2019, Guyana, Panama, Mexico and Russia became the most visited destinations for these purposes by Cubans.

However, although Panama established its tourist card in October 2018 to speed up this type of travel, and Guyana and Russia have maintained a visa-free agreement with the island, Mexico, one of the most popular options attractive to nationals, both for its cheap goods and its geographical proximity, never set up similar facilities.

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The basic reason for this is its northern border with the United States. Which turns a Mexican visa into an almost accelerated path to the “American Dream.” However, not only those who wish to emigrate have needed a visa in recent years.

In the current scenario of economic crisis, and in particular, after the opening of borders in November 2021, the demand for appointments for consular procedures has increased. And, with it, the complaints for illicit management of appointments, which amounted in December 2021 between 400 and 1,000 USD.

The scandal in the media and networks at the end of the previous year was such that it led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) of Mexico to publish a statement to emphasize that “MEXITELCUBA is the only way for the public to request consular interview appointments for visa processing. Appointments are distributed automatically by the system, according to a limited quota.

The ERS itself recognized a few months later, already in March of this year, that he was “aware of complaints regarding the availability and alleged sale of appointments to carry out consular procedures at the Mexican Embassy in Cuba, which have been exposed in the media, networks and through the Integral Citizen Complaints System of the Ministry of Public Administration.

Although, according to what he said, “in February 2022, ERS staff made a visit to the Mexican Embassy in Cuba to assess the general functioning of the consular section” and in “said visit no indication of corruption or suspicious activity related to the attention of the appointments by the staff of this representation.

Concretely, beyond the systematic complaints expressed by the inhabitants of the island in different ways, there is no evidence to prove these illegal procedures and who is involved.

This is why the worst continues to be carried by the Cubans. They cannot overcome the technical demands of the appointment system, they have to make do with a number of appointments that continues to fall short of demand, and when they attempt to “solve” getting d interview, they often find themselves involved in scams in which they lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars without being able to achieve their goal.

It is true that the embassy recommended that nationals “not be fooled and avoid being part of illegal acts”, but the need to solve their procedures and the helplessness of not being able to achieve this even for years, leaves those who need visas on this island no more no less in the deep blue sea.

Lucia Rojas

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