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For Cubans, Ecuador is the new Florida

Ecuador's lack of visa requirements has attracted Cubans who see it as a several-year stopover en route to the United States. A neighborhood in Quito, the capital, is endearingly called the new Florida.

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A bus sits in traffic in downtown Quito. Ecuador has become the new Florida for many Cubans.

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The neighborhood near Quito's airport is called Florida – and the irony is lost on no one. Cubans here joke that they were fooled into thinking they were in the United States.

But in a sense, Ecuador has become the new Florida for many Cubans. Since mid-2008, no foreigner has needed a visa to enter this country. Cubans have responded enthusiastically, driven by business dreams, hopes for prosperity, and perhaps a goal of eventually moving to the US.

According to the National Directorate of Migration, 4,783 Cubans entered the country in 2007, a number that grew to 10,948 in 2008 and 27,114 in 2009. Of those Cubans who entered the country in 2009 on tourist visas, some 4,000 stayed on. Most managed to become naturalized and receive an Ecuadorean passport through arranged marriages.

Marrying for citizenship

José Ernesto Zamora, a restaurant owner, arrived in Quito a year and a half ago after trying his luck in Russia and Venezuela. He divorced his wife in Cuba so that he could marry again here. "I left to try and improve my economic conditions," he says.

Mr. Zamora's paperwork came at minimal fuss and cost. But with marriage the quickest route to citizenship, a thriving business in illegal papers and arranged unions has emerged. In response, government officials in March established that foreigners who have entered on a tourist visa may not marry here without obtaining a different kind of visa.

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