Questioning by Cuban Immigration and Customs Officials
Replies: 45 - Last Post: Dec 6, 2012 3:16 PM Last Post By: wnyzfinest
Dec 4, 2012 1:32 PM
Questioning by Cuban Immigration and Customs OfficialsHi, Cuba experts:). I recently returned from a trip to Cuba from the US under the general license on a tourist visa. When I landed in Havana, I showed my passport to the Immigration official and was told there was a problem and I had to wait for an official to talk with me. The official asked me detailed questions about why I was there, where I was staying, if anyone was waiting for me outside the airport (there was), his name (he is a Cuban friend), who my meetings were with, etc. They said it was 'routine'. Then when I got my luggage, they asked me the same questions, went through my donation medicine bag item by item, inspected my computer equipment, etc. I dismissed it as routine until the day I was leaving Havana. At the airport, they detained me for one hour asking me where I had stayed, where laptop was (I unfortunately had left it in the back of a taxi in my hurry one day, so did not have it). They told me I was there on the incorrect visa and I would not be able to fly. Thankfully, they made some kind of an exception and allowed me to leave just minutes before my plane departed. I have been there 5 times before ----all in 2003 for work. I am wondering if/why they might have targeted me...has anyone else had this sort of experience? I am afraid to go back because of the lost laptop and the fact that they seemed to want minute details of my visit. Let me know if this seems unusual to you...I was never detained or questioned before by them, so I am not sure why I was this time. Thanks so much!
Dec 4, 2012 1:56 PM
1"..under the general license on a tourist visa"
The first is re the US side of the equation - although not necessarily relevant to your questions what category of this were travelling under e.g. 'people to people" or "family visits' or ?
What "visa" did they say you should have entered under?
What visa did you enter under in 2003 for those 5 trips?
What sort of work then?
What was on the laptop?
Dec 4, 2012 2:08 PM
2Thanks so much for responding!!
1. From the US side, I was traveling as a representative of a church with the purpose of meeting with church officials in Havana. Marazul Charters said a tourist visa would be fine and issued me one.
2. The Cubans never said which visa I should have traveled under, they just asked if I had been told when I entered that I should change my visa. I had not been told that at all. So, I guess I inferred my visa was incorrect. When I asked what was wrong, the man said 'no problem', everything is fine. I said, "But for my next trip, what should I do?" He said everything was fine...have a nice trip.
3. In 2003, I traveled under a specific license (from the US end) but I don't know what type of visa it was...it was as a staff member for a study abroad program between my employer (a US university) and the University of Havana. Do you know what category that would be?
3. In 2003 it was university-related work connected to the study abroad program. This time it was also for a university, but a Catholic Church-affiliated university.
4. The laptop just had personal stuff...minimal information...it was my new-ish laptop so not a lot on it yet. The taxi drove away before I realized I had left the bag inside it.
Does that help? I was thinking that the Church connection might have been a red flag for them? Or my Cuban friend?
Dec 4, 2012 3:57 PM
3And of course, Cuba being Cuba and you being an American, did you really think the Cubans would be likely to believe that "forgot my laptop in a taxi story"? Did you file a police report, call the taxi company (was it even a legal taxi?) etc.
Sorry, but call me cynical and a bit of a "doubting Thomas", much like you'd expect Aduana to be and you can see why I'm asking these questions. Considering (in context of course) the case of Alan Gross and the fact the USA has just announced that a former CIA operative is now going to be leading a group of a dozen journalists to operate within Cuba, and well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to be a bit skeptical.
Add to that some possible visa issues, multiple trips, "friends" waiting and well, you had a bit of questioning. Es Cuba!!!!
Dec 4, 2012 4:09 PM
4Thanks so much for your insight...
I see...that makes sense...I was uncomfortable filing a police report because I didn't want any more scrutiny, and I didn't even look at the taxi company name. It was my first day there and I was flustered and carrying 3 bags. Wow...the Alan Gross issue...I didn't even think of that! I definitely won't bring ANY computer equipment next time! Do you think it is safe to go back? Do you think I should probably expect more questions about the lap top, etc.?
Dec 4, 2012 4:47 PM
5Cathy, you went to Cuba carrying a lot of old baggage and a lot of red flags... you are FAR from a "normal" tourist... in your situation I think getting the third degree to some extent will be simple normal operating procedure for you...
Dec 4, 2012 4:52 PM
6Thanks, Terry...I guess you are right. It is a shame because I love Cuba and I hate it to be tainted by them worrying about my intentions. I guess the political issue color the whole scenario. Thanks for your insights and experience.
Dec 4, 2012 4:58 PM
7I'm curious... you love Cuba and you've obviously stayed in contact with people there enough that you're being picked up at the airport by a pal, so why 5 trips in 2003 then waiting another loooong 9 years before returning? That's kinda weird and I can certainly see it raising a red flag with Aduana - especially when you admitted a local was picking you up.
None of my business, just curious, feel free to tell me to bugger off...
Dec 4, 2012 5:17 PM
8Cathy no one her can give a definative answer to your question(s).
Given your past trips and the purpose of this one it is no real surprise as Steve and Terry inferred that you received attention that many of us don't.
One further question - did the issue of your "inappropriate visa" arise immediately or subsequent to some questions - if so what were they?
And who knows what additional red flags may have arisen with respect to who you were visiting/meeting with this trip.
And perhaps it is more these latter matters rather than your trips from long time ago that impinge on the appropriateness of futther visits. You're in a better position to judge that than we anonymous entities on an internet board!
As an aside many of us not from the USA find arrivals in the USA far more confronting/intimidating than you experienced in Cuba. Not being provocative just giving some contextual relativity to dealing with immigration officials.
Dec 4, 2012 5:22 PM
9No worries...no secrets here:). I went in 2003 5 times for my job...then when Bush tightened the legal US travel to Cuba in 2004, my job didn't approve visits by staff for the program any more. I am at a new job now and there is a connection to the church in Cuba that I was asked to explore in terms of people to people delegations...so, because I had experience going, I was asked to go. Obama has loosened those restrictions so it was legal for me to travel again for my work. I am seriously considering not going again because of this last trip.
Thanks for asking:).
Dec 4, 2012 5:32 PM
10I can't remember which questions came first---the visa or questions about my meetings/where I stayed, etc. I wasn't sure what the primary issue for them was---but I think it was my work and the tourist visa.
Let me say on behalf of my country that I am truly sorry that it is so difficult for folks to visit here and feel welcomed when you come...thanks for putting that in context. No offense taken at all. I wish I had some control over changing that for everyone. You are all welcome here in my opinion!
Dec 4, 2012 5:33 PM
11Cathy were you staying in a hotel or friends/co-workers house?
this could be it - a tourist visa = stay in a hote, versus an A2 which you stay with family or a local in Cuba.
Dec 4, 2012 5:37 PM
12See Cathy it could be as simple as within a few seconds your answers suggested that you should have been travelling on a busieness or one of the other several non-tourist categories of visa rather that a tourist visa. In any country arriving on a tourist visa but in fact being there for a different purpose will more than anything else raise the hackles of immigration officials.
Again more conjecture on my part.
Dec 4, 2012 5:40 PM
Dec 4, 2012 6:21 PM
14Thank you Johnabbotsford and WNYZFINEST...I did stay in a private home and they asked me about that...maybe that was part of it---the A2 visa issue. Next time I will be sure to stay in a hotel if I have the tourist card. It is comforting to hear that ANY country would be suspicious if someone came in on a tourist card and were there for work-related reasons. They asked me questions as I entered the country---before they knew about the housing, so I think it was probably the confusion between the work-related trip and the tourist card. Plus having a Cuban friend waiting for me. It all must have painted a picture that didn't fit neatly into any category. I still am uncomfortable about going again---although I must say that they were never confrontational in a mean way...they were just asking a lot of questions.
I just wonder if when I return they will re-visit these unresolved issues again and ask for the details again----or if they will focus on the reasons for my current trip.
I called the travel agent to ask why I had the visa problem...my sense is that it was quicker and easier to get me a tourist card than it would be to get me another type of visa. I called the Cuban 'embassy' in Washington repeatedly to try to sort it out but they never answer. I think it would take a long time to get another type of visa from them based on my attempts to contact them.
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