Cubans Continue to Mass on the Panama – Costa Rica Border

Cubans stuck in Panama. Photo: from the cubanosenpanama FB page.
Cubans stuck in Panama. Photo: from the cubanosenpanama FB page.

HAVANA TIMES — The ongoing migration crisis continues in Central America with more than 2,000 Cubans stranded on the border of Panama with Costa Rica. The current situation follows that of 8,000 Cubans who reached United States, their final destination, from December to March, reported dpa news.

The Costa Rican newspaper “La Nacion” noted that in the border town of Paso Canoas, Panama, 450 kilometers from San Jose, Costa Rica, at least 2,000 Cuban migrants are stuck, and according to accounts of those same people, another 1,200 could arrive at the border post in the coming days.

The crisis is similar to that lived in Central America in mid-November, when about 8,000 Cubans arrived in mass to Costa Rica, where they were stranded for nearly three months, after Nicaragua called out its army to shut its border to Cubans.

The situation was resolved after an agreement was established at the end of January allowing for an airlift between Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico. This enabled the transfer by air of about 4,000 migrants. The other half grew tired waiting and made the trip led by people traffickers who use the same routes as drug traffickers.

In an effort to discourage future migrants, on December 19, Costa Rica suspended the granting of temporary visas to Cubans, despite the fact that several hundred continued to arrive via Panama to the border area.

The surge comes amid fears that the thaw between the US and Cuba will lead to a reform or elimination of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, by which the US authorities provide special attention to Cubans arriving at any US border. The Cubans ask for asylum and are immediately released and are often provided with initial assistance. A year later they are granted permanent residency (green card).

After the crisis unfolded, Ecuador reestablished the need for Cuban immigrants to have a visa to enter the country, something that was not required for over a year.

Despite the many dangers involved in the long journey from Ecuador to the USA, many Cubans consider it a safer route than trying to reach Florida on makeshift vessels.

The Cuban migrants arrived in Ecuador, where they contacted coyotes (traffickers) and embark on the long journey through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, the rest of Central America and Mexico to reach the United States.

The dismantling in Costa Rica on November 10, of a band dedicated to people trafficking left thousands of Cubans adrift in Colombia and Panama, so they moved en masse to the Costa Rican border.

Costa Rica has warned that it is also facing the arrival of undocumented African immigrants, who come from Panama to try to enter the United States.

Under such conditions, the Costa Rican government called Tuesday for a meeting of immigration authorities and deputy foreign ministers of Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Ecuador and Cuba. The US government was also invited.

“This is a problem that must be addressed regionally,” said last week Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez.