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What lies behind Ortega’s plan to admit Cubans without a visa?

Cuban journalist Reynaldo Escobar speaks of the possible reasons behind the Ortega regime’s announcement to exempt Cubans from all visa requirements

The Nicaraguan regime of Daniel Ortega recently announced the establishment of an open admission policy for Cuban citizens who wish to enter Nicaragua. His decision that Cuban citizens no longer need a visa has caused great excitement on the island, even though Cuban president Miguel Diaz Canel has of yet issued no statement on the matter. At present, direct flights between Managua and Havana are still suspended due to the pandemic.

Reinaldo Escobar, news editor of the Cuban digital site 14yMedio, explains that the news “has caused a great impact” and provoked “a lot of discussion”. As of today, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations hasn’t said anything about Nicaragua’s decision, nor has anything appeared in the official government media. “No one has announced: ‘We’ve made an agreement with Nicaragua’”. Their silence “makes it seem” that the Cuban regime wasn’t consulted.

“This is symptomatic of something. Obviously, the government of Daniel Ortega – a close friend of the Cuban government – wouldn’t take a step of this nature without having consulted [with his counterparts on the island]. The fact that the [Cuban] government is covering up, or at least not divulging, this bilateral relation is striking,” Escobar commented. He made these comments during an interview broadcast on the online television news program Esta Noche, which is transmitted on YouTube due to the censorship imposed by the Nicaraguan regime.

Escobar feels that the announcement from Nicaragua, followed by the silence from Cuba, “is a set-up the two rulers have agreed upon.” He believes that their methods have several intentions, among them adding fuel to the migrant crisis on the US southern border. That way, they hope to force the Biden administration to open a channel for negotiating with Cuba.

Relieve the political tension

Nicaragua’s visa-less entry program for Cubans could also be related to the large protests that rocked Cuba on July 11th. These amounted to “a trauma for the Cuban rulers,” stated Escobar. During these protests, hundreds of Cubans went out on the street demanding civil rights, freedom, and even an end to the dictatorship. Conceivably, the Cuban government is trying to relieve the political pressure.

The Cuban regime knows “that [the protests] were not organized by anyone in the United States,” but were “absolutely and totally spontaneous,” the journalist believes. Hence, while the conditions that triggered the social explosion continue, “they may be fearful it could happen again.” The visa-free entry into Nicaragua constitutes an “escape valve” to lower the pressure.

“They [the Diaz Canel regime] need some of the people with the capability of leading such a protest to channel their energy into leaving the country. Instead of using that resolve, that self-esteem to organize a protest, they can go find a place where they can feel happy, a competitive destination that isn’t – in truth – Cuba,” stressed Escobar.

The open visa to Nicaragua “didn’t fall from the sky,” or “coincidentally occur to Nicaragua by decree,” noted Escobar. It “was programmed, studied, and intentionally decided on by the government,” he added.

Wave of emigration expected

Meanwhile, the island residents’ enthusiasm about traveling to Nicaragua is clear to the well-known journalist. However, he also recognized that “the possibilities of massive travel are going to be limited by the airlines’ seating capacity.” At present, there are no direct flights between Havana and Managua, already a cause for protest on the island.

Currently, only Panama-based Copa Airlines has resumed flights to Cuba, connecting the island with Panama City. Those interested in traveling to Nicaragua need to make a stopover in that country.

Looking ahead, Reinaldo Escobar stated that the Nicaraguan authorities should grant some kind of protection to migrants. Once the air connections between both countries is reestablished, he foresees a migratory wave of Cubans intending to continue on towards the United States.

“This could provoke a pretty complex situation. The hotels won’t have enough space, nor the guest houses. It could be an explosion, and the Nicaraguan government will have the responsibility of resolving this issue,” the Cuban journalist highlighted.

In addition to Cubans who see in the visa-free entry into Nicaragua an opportunity to emigrate to the United States, there are also groups of merchandise traffickers on the island. These vendors, known as “mules”, see the announcement as an opportunity to travel and bring back and resell products that aren’t obtainable in Cuba.

“The fact that Nicaragua isn’t demanding an entry visa will allow some [island residents], who receive money from relatives outside the country, to use this money to travel to Nicaragua and buy products. They can then sell them [at a profit] in Cuba,” Escobar explained.

The “mules” are frowned on by the Communist regime. However, they do the job “that a commercial enterprise would normally do. Or, in the case of Cuba, what the Ministry of Foreign Trade should be doing: importing products to sell in Cuba,” detailed Escobar. Currently, “there’s an urgent need” on the island for people to import merchandise and sell it internally.

As a result, the regime turns a blind eye to the mules’ business activities. “Instead of legally authorizing them in a formal way, they allow people to go to Nicaragua, and they establish some type of undeclared Customs flexibility.” That lets them satisfy some of the population’s needs, “without the State having to invest a cent in that operation.” In addition, “they can charge taxes for bringing items through Customs,” Reinaldo Escobar concluded.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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