Migration authorities from Panama and Cuba are analyzing mechanisms to facilitate the arrival of Cuban visitors to the Colon Free Zone (ZLC), the largest in the continent, without this implying eliminating the mandatory visa requirement for those born on the island.
The matter was discussed during the fifth round of migration talks between the two countries, a meeting held this Monday in the Panamanian capital, in which the director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad, Ernesto Soberón Guzmán, participated; and the director of the National Migration Service of Panama, Samira Gozaine, among other officials.
“The possibility of signing an agreement, together with the Colon Free Zone, regarding the issue of stamped visas and the tourist card is being analyzed to make it easier for Cuban tourists and businesspeople to enter Panama, definitely eliminating the tourist card and staying with the Stamped Visa,” said the National Migration Service of Panama.
“Right now, the National Migration Service is reviewing the procedures for Cuban citizens to enter the country as tourists and refers to the procedure established by Decree Law 3 of February 22, 2008,” added an official statement after the meeting.
For his part, Soberón Guzmán said on his Twitter account that the meeting took place “in a cordial, frank and mutually respectful environment,” and that there had been an exchange on “the behavior of the migratory flow and migration policies of both countries,” without offering further details.
In October 2018, Panama established the so-called tourism card for Cuban self-employed citizens or artisans who did not have a stamped visa, which cost 20 dollars and allowed them to enter and stay in the Central American country for up to 30 days to carry out shopping tourism.
But in March 2019, the Panamanian government ruled that even Cubans who had the tourist card should have the stamped visa, and in July of the same year the suspension of the issuance of the tourist card was announced.
The businesspeople of the Colon Free Zone, located in the Panamanian Caribbean and the largest in the continent, resented the measure and asked the Panamanian government to look for alternatives for Cuban buyers, who represented 40% of the 57,121 tourists who arrived at the emporium between January and July of last year.
In an interview with EFE news agency last August, the president of the Association of Users of the Colon Free Zone, Daniel Rojas, said that alleged irregularities detected by the Panamanian government in the allocation and use of the tourism card caused the suspension of the mechanism.
There was the fact that “not everyone” who entered Panama with the tourist card came to buy: “Many enter and go overland to the United States” to settle in the U.S., said Rojas.
Panama is a transit zone for thousands of irregular migrants from around the world who, moved by networks of traffickers, cross part of South and Central America on their way to the north of the continent.
A part of them decides to stay in Panama, and only in the first five months of 2019 the National Migration Service intercepted 688 foreigners, most from Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela, for staying irregularly in the country.
Panama has been the destination of many migrants in the region in recent years, mainly Venezuelans, Colombians and Central Americans, due to its economic strength and socio-political stability.
The massive arrival of Cubans between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 generated a humanitarian crisis in Panama and Costa Rica, which was considered a consequence of the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States and the end of the migratory benefits for the islanders in the North American country.
EFE / OnCuba