Cuban government halts some travelers to island

The Cuban government has suddenly blocked the arrival of Cubans from abroad whose passports lack a required validation, angering dozens of travelers who were stopped at Miami International Airport and others halted after they landed in Havana.

A notice from Havanatour, a state-run travel agency, dated Thursday said that as of that same day authorities in Havana would no longer accept the arrivals of travelers whose Cuban passports lack a valid “prorroga,” or extension.

Cuban passports are valid for six years but require “prorrogas” every two years. Until Thursday, Cuba had allowed the arrival of travelers without a valid extension — though required them to obtain them once in Havana — because of problems at its consulate in Washington.

The consulate closed all its consular services that require paid fees, such as the extensions, visas and new passports, on Feb. 17 after its M&T Bank in Buffalo, N.Y., shut down all the accounts it held for all foreign consulates.

Havanatour’s announcement gave no reason for the sudden change, said Maria Brieva, owner of the Machi travel agency in Miami, and threatened to fine any travel agents that allowed persons without the proper documents to board flights for the island.

Some travelers with tickets to Cuba on Thursday were stopped at MIA before they could board their flights, according to travel agency workers. Others on early morning flights boarded their flights and arrived in Cuba, but were not allowed to leave the airport.

The disruption Thursday was the first visible impact of the decision by the Cuban consulate in Washington to halt its services — except for humanitarian cases — although Miami Cubans say they know of many others with expired passports who have not been able to travel.

Until now, the numbers of U.S. travelers to the island had been holding steady, according to travel industry sources. Many Cuban Americans have multiple-entry visas to return to their home country, and U.S. companies offering trips to non-Cuban Americans on so-called people-to-people visits said they usually plan more than six months ahead.

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