Transfer of Cubans Stuck in Costa Rica to Continue in February

Cubans on the initial flight last week that took them from Costa Rica to El Salvador. Photo: the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry
Cubans on the initial flight last week that took them from Costa Rica to El Salvador. Photo: the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry

HAVANA TIMES — The operation to transfer thousands of Cuban migrants who are stranded in Costa Rica will resume on February 4, as agreed upon today by representatives of several Central American countries and Mexico meeting in Guatemala.

The next transfer will follow the same route used by the first group of 180 migrants, who participated in a pilot project last week, informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala.

Like the first group, the next portion of the nearly 8,000 Cuban migrants who hope to reach the United States, will depart by plane from Costa Rica to El Salvador. From there, they will travel by land to Guatemala and then to the border with Mexico. Once in Mexico, they have 20 days to work their way to the United States border.

The agreement was defined during a meeting between representatives of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, as well as the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

It was also agreed to use the same procedures as the pilot trip and the countries involved pledged to monitor the procedure so that it goes according to the planning, said an official statement.

During the meeting an analysis took place of the initial operation and each country presented their experience in the management of the migration and visa issues as well as logistics and security.

All the countries described the process as successful and emphasized that the passage of the Cuban migrants was conducted legally, orderly, safely and transparently.

The plan stipulates that all the Cubans must pay for their transportation expenses, visas and taxes, which added up to US $550 per person to get to the Guatemalan/Mexican border.

The dismantling in Costa Rica of a band dedicated to people trafficking last November triggered the crisis with the Cuban immigrants, who were left adrift. Then the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega sent out the army to block the Cubans from passing through its territory.

Nicaragua has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the transfer of the Cubans, greatly increasing the costs for the migrants and requiring much coordination among the other Central American countries and Mexico.

Cubans who reach US territory overland are allowed to stay under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Besides government assistance, they are put on a fast-track to permanent residency.

The normalization of relations between Washington and Havana in December 2014, provoked a mass exodus of Cubans during the coming year, attributed to the fear that a change in their special immigration status and benefits could be forthcoming.