TAMPA — For 20 years, Tampa travel agent Vicente Amor has been taking Americans to Cuba for humanitarian missions, business meetings, research, cultural exchanges and educational tours.
Now, with consular services suspended at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Amor has added a new travel package to his company ASC International USA's itinerary: Georgetown, Guyana.
U.S. immigrant visa services for Cuban citizens have been moved to the embassy there, which means to come to the United States, they have to go to South America first.
So Amor is taking Cuban citizens and their loved ones residing in the U.S. to Georgetown, assisting them with the visa process while helping them navigate a country about which they may know nothing and no one.
"I have friends and contacts from Cuba living in Guyana who can help," said the Cuban-born Amor. "When I heard Cubans need to go to Guyana, I realized I can do something good for the Cuban people."
Packages can be a la carte or all-inclusive — flight, hotel, meals and ground transportation to and from the airport, visa interviews and medical exams. Amor will even schedule the appointments and provide a translator.
"I can do everything but the legal work needed to apply for the visa," he said.
The State Department estimates Cubans should expect to stay in Guyana for up to 14 days during this process.
Consular services at the embassy in Havana have been suspended since September. The U.S. State Department took that action after cutting 60 percent of the staff there in response to the still mysterious health attacks that left American diplomats with hearing loss, concussion-like symptoms and other problems.
Cuban citizens can obtain non-immigrant visas from a U.S. embassy in any country in the world.
Immigrant visa services were initially moved from Havana to the U.S. embassy in Bogota, Colombia. But beginning in June that changed to Guyana. Officials cited the availability of flights, more space and more staff. And Cubans do not need a visa to travel to Guyana but did to get to Colombia.
Prior to the shutdown of consular services at the U.S. embassy in Havana, around 800 immigrant visas a month were being issued to Cubans to move to the United States. Since October 2017 that monthly average has been cut in half, according to statistics on the State Department's web site.
Still, there have been some months with high Cuban immigration numbers — nearly 900 in January, more than 1,000 in February, almost 800 in March and about 700 in June.
But Cubans who want to move to the United States are frustrated that the process has become so difficult, Amore said.
"When I talk with the people, the first thing they say is this is unbelievable," he said. "People are mad."
Contact Paul Guzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.