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Saturday, 27 December 2014

2014- The year that was: USA-Cuba ties restored- 2014............

Hundreds of Cubans congregate each morning outside the US interests section in Havana, hoping to get an elusive visa to visit their relatives in the united States. This office, set up to partially restore the diplomatic contact the United States severed in 1961, was long the rallying point for anti American protests spurred on by fiery speeches from communist leader Fidel Castro.

But it is also the spot where Cubans hope against all odds to get a US visa, a symbol of the complicated relations between the United States and the communist island 140 kilometers (90 miles) off its coast.

Cubans pay a non-refundable $160 to apply for a visa, eight times the average monthly salary in Cuba.

As visa seekers weaved their way through the six different lines involved in the process, which can take up to five hours, many voiced hope that last week's announcement of a renewal in ties between the United States and Cuba would mean more visas. But for now the sentence "You do not qualify to travel" is still heard often inside.

Since President Raul Castro took over from his older brother Fidel, the father of the Cuban Revolution, in 2006, he has loosened travel restrictions for Cubans.

The United States has also made it easier for CubanAmericans to visit the island and began issuing more visas for Cubans -up 27 percent to 19,500 between November 2013 and April 2014.

Thanks to the reforms, a record 327,600 people traveled between the two countries in the first half of the year.

Most travel to Miami, home to the largest Cuban diaspora worldwide.