Fly to Nicaragua to escape the Cuban economic crisis

In recent weeks, the race for plane tickets to Nicaragua, now accessible to Cubans without a visa, has unleashed passions, but also frustrations, among those seeking to flee the economic crisis on the island.

Hundreds of them try their luck every day in front of the offices of Copa Airlines, the only company currently offering this destination. However, many leave frustrated by the exorbitant prices or the distant dates offered, due to the high demand.

The announcement on November 22 took them all by surprise: the government of Nicaragua, Havana’s political ally, has eliminated the need for a visa due to “the sheer volume of requests from our fellow Cuban citizens with relatives. in Nicaragua ”. The official goal? Promote trade, tourism and family reunification.

But “it is no secret that the majority of Cubans go to Nicaragua to emigrate to the United States”, blows a young person who is responsible for organizing the long queue in front of the Copa offices.

It’s 5 p.m. Tuesday. The company’s offices have closed, but 54 people are put on the next day’s list for entry. Over the hours, others arrive to register as well, some even staying to sleep there.

“Humanitarian” reasons

At nightfall, a young Cuban tells about his plan: at Managua airport, someone will be waiting to take him to southeastern Mexico, then to Monterrey, 400 kilometers from the border town of Piedras Negras. , from where he will attempt to cross into the United States.

Nicaragua’s surprise decision “created hopes and frustrations among the Cuban people,” said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “Even if the Nicaraguan government has invoked ‘humanitarian’ reasons to allow Cubans to enter the country freely, one can reasonably think that it is a question of opening a ‘valve’ to the pressures that Cuba has suffered in recent times. due to the recession, the pandemic and the protests ”.

Exasperated by food and medicine shortages, thousands of Cubans took to the streets on July 11, shouting “We are hungry” and “Freedom”.

Currently, Cubans need visas for all countries of the Americas except Guyana, where many travel to then attempt a long and dangerous overland trek to the United States. Nicaragua becomes their second option, closer to the final destination.

Cuba did not fully reopen its borders until November 15, after 10 months of health restrictions.

A round-trip flight to Managua, with a stopover in Panama, currently costs up to C $ 2,995, a one-way ticket, $ 1,465, but with no space available until March. In Cuba, the minimum wage is only $ 112 per month.

“To buy a ticket, it’s total chaos,” says Veronica Lied, 32-year-old nurse. There is none or, for those who are on sale, Copa really abuses the prices, “she said, specifying that she wanted to go there because she was” told that there are good shops, and open, in Nicaragua ”.

The Cuban government has just announced that it is extending until June the possibility for travelers to bring food and medicines in their suitcases, without taxes or weight limit.

A second company, Venezuelan Conviasa, will begin selling Havana-Managua tickets on December 15, according to local press.

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