HAVANA TIMES — The immigration crisis affecting Costa Rica and Panama following the arrival of a new wave of Cubans deepened today on their shared southern border with outbreaks of violence and a heavy police presence, reported dpa news.
On Thursday, more than a thousand Cuban immigrants who were stranded on the Panamanian side, along with a group of Africans, stormed by force the Costa Rican customs post of Paso Canoas, where they demanded transit permission to proceed to the USA, their final destination.
Some 200 Africans managed to evade the police presence and move on buses and other means to the border with Nicaragua, where they were rejected, as happened with the Cubans last November, when Managua closed its border to over a thousand migrants who attempted to cross into the country from Costa Rica.
Costa Rican immigration authorities deported the Africans who were stranded on its northern border by land back to Panama. At first the authorities of the neighboring country refused to receive them.
The police forces of the two countries reached an agreement on Friday allowing for the return to Panama of the Africans who had entered Costa Rica.
Over 2,000 Cubans and a couple hundred Africans have been stuck in Panama for several weeks.
Costa Rica President Luis Guillermo Solis spoke out on Thursday against the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, by which the United States grants special immigration benefits to Cubans who leave the island and reach a US border by any means.
In November, a wave of some 8,000 Cubans, who were stranded for three months in Costa Rica, managed to reach the US after an agreement involving El Salvador and Mexico established an air bridge which allowed the Cubans to reach the US border where they were welcomed by the immigration authorities.
But the two countries said Tuesday at a regional meeting that they will not establish a similar mechanism to resolve the current crisis.
Costa Rica suspended transit visas for Cubans on December 19, and starting that same month Ecuador began requiring entry visas for Cubans arriving to that country. Nonetheless, several thousand Cubans residing temporarily in Ecuador hope to make the journey north as soon as possible.
“It’s a very complex situation,” said an official with the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security.
In the case of the Cubans, most left legally many months ago to Ecuador, which until December was not asking for entry visas.
The thaw between Washington and Havana is causing fear among many Cubans that migratory preferences granted by the United States will be eliminated, which has encouraged emigration in recent months.
The Castro government and right wing US politicians, led by senator Marco Rubio, are pushing for the elimination or modification of the Act. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Cuban population on the island wants the benefits to remain.
Costa Rica reinforced its police presence Thursday on its side of the Paso Canoas border post, located some 300 kilometers from the capital San Jose, while the authorities in Panama sent a squadron of riot police to their side of the border.