Messages from the Director General of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of MINREX, Ernesto Soberón Guzmán.

Since the beginning of the Pandemic, our consulates and consular offices have developed dissimilar actions based on serving the Cuban community residing abroad, taking into account the exceptional nature of the current situation marked by the impact of Covid-19.

First, remote consular procedures were encouraged and facilitated to avoid the transfer of people and, in this way, reduce the risk of contagion. The cases of Cuban citizens who were infected with Covi-19 were given priority attention.

The necessary support has been provided to the relatives and friends of Cuban citizens who, unfortunately, have died abroad due to Covid-19. Together with the different Cuban communities abroad, and solidarity friends, our embassies and consulates have supported our compatriots who were unable to return to the country because of the Pandemic. Consular assistance was provided to Cuban crew members enrolled in more than 12 cruise ships and more than 20 merchant ships, which were stranded in ports in different countries. Negotiations were carried out with airlines and authorities from different countries, with the aim of coordinating charter flights to Cuba, through which Cuban citizens were transferred to our country and foreigners who were stranded in Cuba were evacuated. From March 21 to date, 94 charter flights were made, in which more than 5,700 Cubans stranded in 56 countries returned.

Upon arrival in Cuba, all these people received the required epidemiological care, whose fundamental objective, as has been reiterated by the highest leadership of our country, is to guarantee the life and health of our nationals. This care included, among other aspects, the transfer to their provinces of residence, accommodation in isolation centers for several days, where they were guaranteed medical care, food and other basic needs; performing PCR and, in cases where it was necessary, transferring them to health centers to receive the required treatment, all at no cost. The foregoing is of singular importance if we take into account the effectiveness of the protocols applied in Cuba in dealing with Covid-19, on which our population has extensive information.

The use of the facilities provided by the new information and communication technologies has been used to the maximum in terms of serving Cubans living abroad. In this sense, virtual national meetings and other initiatives have been developed based on systematic interaction with our nationals. What has been mentioned so far corresponds to the policy of care for Cubans living abroad that our country has invariably maintained since the Dialogue of 1978 took place, promoted and promoted by the Historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz.

The main objective of this policy, which has been ratified by the top leadership of the State and the Cuban Government on different occasions, continues to be the strengthening of ties with Cubans living abroad. To this end, the country's immigration policy has been periodically updated with measures aimed at facilitating ties between Cubans, those who reside on the island and those who do so abroad; Quite the opposite of the measures adopted by the current US government, aimed at suffocating us economically and hindering the ties between Cuban families. We must not forget that before the emergence of the Pandemic, the US government had already adopted a series of measures aimed at affecting the travel of Cuban citizens, in one sense or another, between the two countries. Policy that has continued to apply in the context of Covid-19.

Just to mention the main ones: the suspension of consular services in Havana, the fact that Cuban citizens who wish to emigrate, or travel to the United States, are forced to move to third countries to request the corresponding visa, which makes it difficult and it makes the procedures extremely expensive, the suspension of regular and charter flights to international airports, except Havana, the reduction in a general sense of flights from the United States to Cuba. Restrictions for sending remittances, which is known to be one of the ways in which Cubans abroad have to support their family and friends in Cuba, in the context of a tense economic situation, aggravated by the effects of the Covid- 19 and also, of course, by the intensification of the blockade, the financial persecution and the extraterritorial measures associated with this perverse and inhumane policy of the US government.

Another of the measures announced by our government in the context of Ciovid-19, was the automatic extension and without costs of the uninterrupted stay abroad of Cuban citizens residing in Cuba, beyond the established 24 months, from March 19, 2020 until further notice. In the first place, it is important to note that the Cuban Migration Law establishes that a Cuban citizen is considered to have emigrated when he travels abroad for personal reasons and remains uninterrupted for a period of time greater than 24 months. This means that it is considered that the Cuban citizen, from that moment, established his permanent residence in another country, which, at all, has to do with his condition as a Cuban citizen, which remains unchanged. The regulation of the Law itself establishes the assumptions from which a Cuban citizen can request, if he wishes, the extension of the time of permanence abroad beyond 24 months, with the aim of maintaining his permanent residence in the national territory. The regulation itself also establishes the possibility of recovering permanent residence in the national territory, if that were the desire of the Cuban citizen.

Therefore, the decision to automatically extend the time spent abroad without cost constitutes an exception in relation to a consular procedure that existed before the pandemic and that was applied normally. As a rule, the vast majority of Cuban citizens residing in the national territory travel abroad and return to the country before the end of 24 months. The main objective of this measure is that Cuban citizens who were abroad and could not return to the country for reasons beyond their control, maintain their permanent residence in Cuba, despite exceeding the established 24-month period. As of the entry of our country into the New Normal, our consulates and consular offices have begun to gradually resume their normal operations, like the rest of the Cuban institutions. However, as announced by the Minister of Transportation at the Round Table on Friday 16, air operations begin at all international airports in the country, except José Martí, the largest of its kind. This, together with the outbreak of the Pandemic in different countries, means that for the moment there will be no normality in terms of regular flights and, therefore, there will be compatriots who will be able to return immediately and others who, for reasons beyond their control, will not be able to do what.

Taking into account the above, and the opinions received from different associations of Cubans residing abroad, as well as criteria expressed on a personal level by Cubans who have been unable to return to our country, it has been decided to maintain the automatic extension and No costs of the stay abroad, for those who expire 24 months. This situation will remain in force until normality is restored in terms of regular flights, which, I insist, not only depends on the opening of air operations at the José Martí Airport, but also on the epidemiological situation in the countries where they are located. our nationals and the availability of flights from these origins, which is what, ultimately, will allow the return to Cuba of Cuban citizens.

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