Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Embassy swarmed

Embassy swarmed
Hundreds of Cubans line up to take advantage of law giving them chance
at Spanish citizenship
By Will Weissert | The Associated Press
December 30, 2008

HAVANA - More than 400 Cubans of Spanish ancestry mobbed that country's
stately embassy in Havana on Monday, waiting to apply for citizenship
under the newly enacted "law of grandchildren."

Spain has begun accepting citizenship applications from the descendants
of people who went into exile after its brutal 1936-39 civil war, part
of a 2007 law meant to address the painful legacy of the conflict and
the ensuing right-wing dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. But a new
provision approved Friday also allows anyone whose parents or
grandparents were born in Spain but went overseas because of their
political beliefs or economic hardship to become Spaniards.

Those accepted do not have to renounce their current citizenship.

Officials in Madrid have estimated that as many as half a million people
worldwide could be eligible to become citizens, although it is unclear
how many of those are in Cuba. About 300,000 people in Argentina alone
may qualify.

Spanish authorities have asked applicants to use the Internet to set up
consular appointments, and most potential Spanish citizens in countries
outside of Cuba were going online instead of heading to their local

There were a few dozen people lined up at the Spanish Embassy in Mexico
City. But that was nothing compared with the tangled and disorganized
clumps of would-be Spanish citizens that stretched across a busy avenue
and engulfed a small park in Havana because access to the Web is tightly
controlled in this country.

Miguel Carpio, 52, an office worker, said his sister in Miami used the
Internet to secure a consular appointment, but he had no choice but to
wait in line.

"Maybe we can all see each other there in Spain someday," he said.

Even those who receive Spanish citizenship must wait for permission from
the Cuban government to travel abroad, a process that is often slow and

Carpio said he has no plans to emigrate — at least for now.

"I'm just thinking of visiting," he said. "But having the option is very

Norberto Luis Diaz, 38, was the first person in Cuba to be approved for
citizenship under the new provisions. A Spanish consular official signed
the forms authorizing his passport, and Diaz excitedly hugged his family
members moments later.

"I have more Spanish blood than Cuban blood because almost 75 percent of
my genes are Spanish," said Diaz, whose grandfather arrived in Cuba in
the early 1900s and married a fellow Spanish exile just to be sure he
preserved his homeland's citizenship.

Diaz is a cardiologist who began applying for permission to travel to
Spain in 2002. Because many Cuban health care workers have to wait six
years for approval to head abroad for extended periods, official Cuban
permission to leave only came last week, days before the law took effect
— making him the first Cuban eligible.

He said he plans to stay in Spain for several months and has inquired
about practicing medicine there, but he will one day return to Cuba.

"This is my homeland, too," Diaz said.

Because his application was already being processed, he avoided the
monstrous line outside the colonial-style embassy, situated off
tree-lined Paseo del Prado Boulevard between central Havana and the
capital's historic Old Town.

The embassy was open only until 4 p.m., and most people in line had no
hope of being seen Monday. Many began to arrange for family members to
hold their places night and day for as long as it takes.

One of those who reached the front was 79-year-old Yolanda Ruiz — but
only because she began waiting Sunday at midday. Relatives waited in
shifts for her all night.

"I'm very excited about seeing my 18 cousins scattered around there,"
Ruiz said of a possible trip to Spain.,0,6168639.story

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