The Other Side of the Thaw
By Ernesto Ramirez e Isaac Risco
HAVANA TIMES — A year after Washington and Havana made history by announcing the beginning of a thaw between the two nations, thousands of Cubans face uncertain days in Central America, reported dpa news on Wednesday.
To a certain extent, the migratory crisis is the other side of the diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, which has given rise to huge expectations throughout the region since December 17, 2014.
“I haven’t seen any changes in Cuba. A year after the thaw, everything is still the same or worse,” Luis Roberto Perez, a Cuban engineer stranded on Costa Rica’s northern border with Nicaragua, tells DPA.
“That’s why we’re seeing this avalanche of migrants heading towards the United States,” Perez believes. “Our families and friends encourage us and tell us not to go back, that things are worse there every day,” he claims.
“Just look at how more people are leaving after they re-established relations,” Lissete Murgado adds. “I believe Cuba’s economic situation should have changed, that there should be more trade and more concrete developments, Murgado says, explaining how her expectations regarding the rapprochement with Washington were frustrated.
Some 6,000 Cubans are now stranded in Costa Rica and unable to continue on the dangerous land journey towards the United States, and this number is growing every week. “We’re the victims,” Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis tried to explain this Tuesday in Havana in connection with the crisis.
Solis was referring to the US laws that afford Cubans migratory benefits, but his words could also accurately describe the circumstances in which the Costa Rican government has been left to its own resources with regards to the humanitarian crisis on its border.
Over recent months, thousands of Cubans traveled to Ecuador legally to try and reach the United States by land, apparently fearing that Washington will soon repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Havana.
The 1966 act and the so-called “wet foot / dry foot” policy, in effect since 1995, allow Cubans to easily secure US permanent residency, even if they reach the country illegally.
Even though the Barack Obama administration denies rumors that the law is going to change, these have spread quickly across the socialist island, and they are clearly behind the wave of immigrants that have flooded Ecuador in recent months. Ecuador had not required a visitor’s visa before December 1, when it changed its policy.
The current crisis was sparked off after Costa Rican police dismantled a network of “coyotes” (people traffickers) crossing the country on November 10. This left thousands of Cubans arriving in the country from Colombia and Panama (and hoping to continue on their way through Mexico, to reach the United States) stranded.
Many of them gathered at Costa Rica’s border control point of Paso Canoas, on the border with Panama, to demand passage. Costa Rica granted them temporary visas but Nicaragua – and then Guatemala and Belize – refused to grant them passage through their territories over the following weeks.
“I feel betrayed,” Solis declared in Havana. The Costa Rican leader calls on the other Central American nations to allow the migrants to pass through their territories.
On Tuesday, Solis availed himself of a visit to the island that had been previously planned to speak directly with Raul Castro about the situation and to try and find a solution to the crisis. Rather than request the repatriation of the Cubans, it is believed the Costa Rican president wants his Cuban counterpart to convince his ally, Nicaragua, to open its borders.
“The destination of migrants who have been crossing Central America in recent years is the United States, not Cuba,” Solis explained. In recent weeks, several regional meetings where the Costa Rican government attempted to secure support from neighboring countries failed.
Analysts such as John McAuliff, executive director of the US Fund for Reconciliation and the Development of Cuba, believe that, in the long run, the Obama administration will have to consider amending the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“He will realize that, if this doesn’t happen, he will have people taking to Central America month after month,” McAuliff told DPA. The analyst believes that, in its latest declarations, Washington has not been as categorical in its refusal to suspend the law. “I believe they are preparing the terrain for talks on the matter,” he stated.