MIAMI – The strained relations between the United States and Cuba and the crisis in Venezuela are prompting changes in requirements and flights that are causing some frequent travelers to have to jump through hoops to shop in South Florida.
For Cubans, the five-year tourist visa that was allowing entrepreneurs to travel back and forth for supplies is no longer an option. Starting on Monday, Cubans who have B2 visas will only be allowed to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of three months and the visa will only valid for one trip.
The complications come as the U.S. limits diplomatic services, so every single time a Cuban wants to travel to the U.S., they will have to travel to a third country first to apply for the visa. The U.S. embassies in Mexico, Panama and Colombia are dealing with most cases.
The news Friday was a blow to Niuris Higueras, who runs the restaurant Alelier in Havana. She is very upset about the changes. She travels to South Florida regularly to buy salt, hand towels, candles and other products that she can't buy in Cuba.
"This affects every Cuban but especially entrepreneurs," Higueras told the Associated Press.
Venezuelans who are dealing with shortages from everything from diapers to cough syrup were also having a hard time. Natalia Fernandez said her mother travels to Miami-Dade regularly to buy basic necessities.
"We always find a way. I don't know if they are going to reimburse her for the flight. Things are so bad now," Fernandez said in Spanish. "The stores there are empty. She doesn't want to leave my grandmother. They want to stay there, but to get things like perfume or shoes, she loves to come shop here."
American Airlines suspended flights to and from Caracas and Maracaibo after some pilots refused to make flights to Venezuela. An Air Europa flight crew was attacked at gunpoint on their way to their downtown Caracas hotel and there was a shooting between the assailants and hotel security. No one was hurt, but the incident prompted the airline to stop flights.
"The safety and security of our team members and customers is always number one and American will not operate to countries we don't consider safe," a company statement says.
U.S. State Department issued a level four advisory asking U.S. citizens to stay away from Venezuela to avoid "crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention."