QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador announced Thursday that it will begin requiring Cubans to get visas to enter beginning next week, seeking to discourage the flow of migrants.
Deputy Foreign Minister Xavier Lasso said Ecuador wants to curb the movement of migrants who have been using Ecuador as a transit country to reach other nations without permission.
He said such migration is dangerous and "puts at risk men, women and children."
"We do not close the door to Cuba," but Ecuador is committed to efforts by the Latin American community to prevent migration without authorization, Lasso said.
In an unusual public display of discontent, less than 24 hours after the announcement hundreds of angry Cubans gathered in front of Ecuador's embassy in Havana .
They said they were frustrated by Ecuador's new rule that Cubans need a visa to visit — a move that complicates both legitimate travel and efforts to reach the United States.
The lack of a visa requirement for Cubans made Ecuador a favored destination for those seeking a vacation or job abroad, as well as those who leave the island and make the 3,400-mile overland route to the United States, where they can receive automatic legal residency.
Many people lined up early in hope of getting a visa, which will be required for travel as of Tuesday. But diplomats told the crowd by loudspeaker that they would have to apply for a visa via a government website.
Most Cubans have almost no Internet access.
Many Cubans fear that the normalization of relations with the U.S. will bring an end to Cold War-era special immigration privileges that give U.S. residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.
His announcement came after a weekend meeting in El Salvador where Central American and other officials, including Ecuador's foreign minister, discussed the plight of 3,000 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who are stranded at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The vast majority of those Cubans started their journey in Ecuador, which until now has allowed any foreigner to enter without a visa.
The year-old detente between Havana and Washington has set off a surge of Cuban migrants toward the United States. They fear the normalization of relations will bring an end to Cold War-era special immigration privileges that grant residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.