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The Struggle of More Than One Thousand Cuban Immigrants Stranded in Central America

Categories: Latin America, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Citizen Media, Governance, Humanitarian Response, International Relations, Migration & Immigration, Politics, Protest, Refugees
Foto compartida en las redes sociales

Image shared on social media of Cuban immigrants stranded on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Almost 1,500 Cubans hoping to reach the United States find themselves in a limbo between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, after the latter country denied them entry, sparking a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis in Central America.

In 2014, a total of 20,384 Cubans reached or attempted to reach the United States. According to data collected by the daily newspaper The Miami Herald [1], 17,459 crossed over from the Mexican border, 814 landed ashore in Florida, and 2,111 were intercepted in the 150-kilometre strait that separates Cuba and the US.

In force since 1996, the Cuban Adjustment Act [2], also known as the “wet feet, dry feet” policy, allows Cubans who reach US soil to obtain work visas and various benefits: an “exceptional” agreement unavailable to immigrants from other nationalities.

The land-based route, which is also the most popular, covers almost 8,000 kilometres and looks like this:

The route Cuban people take. #QuePasenLosCubanos [3] [Let the Cubans in]

This group flew into Ecuador, where they were not asked for entry visas, and proceeded to cross over to Colombia before setting off on the journey through Central America. The immigrants’ journey is far from a novelty in the region. However, the Nicaraguan government denied almost 1,800 Cubans entry last Sunday, 15 November, armed the border, [6] and used violent methods such as tear gas and rubber bullets to drive them away.

The news channel CB24.tv posted video to Facebook shortly afterward of Cuban immigrants marching toward a line of police on the border with the following description:

1.100 cubanos se encuentran a la deriva en la frontera entre Costa Rica y Nicaragua. El Ejército nicaragüense informó que “no va a permitir el ingreso de personas ilegales al territorio nacional, para lo cual se ha reforzado la frontera sur con un Batallón de Infantería”.

¿Qué piensa usted que deberían hacer las autoridades de cada país?

1,100 Cubans find themselves adrift on Costa Rica's border with Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Army reported that “it will not allow undocumented people into the country and has therefore strengthened its southern border with an Infantry Battalion.”

What do you think each country's authorities should do?

Screenshot of video posted by CB24.tv on Facebook showing Cuban migrants marching toward the border. Click the image to watch the video on Facebook. [7]

Screenshot of video posted by CB24.tv on Facebook showing Cuban migrants marching toward the border. Click the image to watch the video on Facebook.

According to press reports, the group previously spent weeks stranded at Panama's border with Costa Rica until Costa Rica authorised the temporary entry after dismantling a ‘coyote’ or trafficking smuggler network. Nicaragua demands that Cubans have a visa to enter the country.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's leftist government alleges that Costa Rica has not formally expressed any interest in resolving the conflict, but quite the opposite, spurring it by issuing additional visas.

CubanetNoticias: Turning away Cuban immigrants was an act of “defense”, Nicaraguan Chancellor affirms …

The daily newspaper La Nación reports that Panama's Minister of Foreign Affairs Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado called upon neighbouring countries to “adopt a united stance” with Cuban migrants.

With the images of thousands of Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe fresh, people have expressed their displeasure with the Central American governments through the hashtag #QuePasenLosCubanos [3] (Let the Cubans in).

#Ortega is not #Nicaragua [11]. Nicaraguans are caring and we want them to let the Cubans in.

Enemy of the free press, expels so called “undocumented” migrants…no, it's not Donald Trump, it's Daniel Ortega. Let the Cubans in.

Humanitarian visas for Cubans! We're all migrants! Let the Cubans in.

Meanwhile, the minister of foreign affairs of Cuba released the following statement [18]:

Estas personas han salido de Cuba de manera legal hacia diferentes países de América Latina, cumpliendo todos los requisitos establecidos por las regulaciones migratorias cubanas. En el intento de llegar a territorio de los Estados Unidos se han convertido en víctimas de traficantes y de bandas delincuenciales, que de manera inescrupulosa lucran a partir del control del paso de estas personas por Sudamérica, Centroamérica y México.

Las autoridades cubanas se han mantenido en permanente contacto con los gobiernos de los países implicados, con el objetivo de encontrar una solución rápida y adecuada, que tome en consideración el bienestar de los ciudadanos cubanos…

… El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores ratifica que los ciudadanos cubanos que hayan salido legalmente del país y cumplan con la legislación migratoria vigente tienen derecho a retornar a Cuba, sí así lo desean…

These people have legally left Cuba for other Latin American countries, complying with all of the requirements established by Cuban migration regulations. In the attempt to reach the United States, that have become victims of criminal organisations and traffickers, who immorally profit from controlling the passage of these people through South America, Central America and Mexico.

Cuban authorities have stayed in constant contact with the governments of the countries involved, with the aim of finding a quick and appropriate solution that takes the wellbeing of Cuban citizens into account…

…The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that Cuban citizens who have legally left the country and comply with current migration regulations have the right to return to Cuba if they wish to do so…

The Cuban government added that the immigrants “are victims of the politicization of the migration issue by the United States government, by the Cuban Adjustment Act and, particularly, by the implementation of the so called ‘wet feet-dry feet’ policy.” Rumours about the end of the migration agreement following the rapprochement between Washington and Havana could account for the high number of immigrants.

While many seek out ‘coyotes’ to fulfil this journey, the majority of Central American governments prefer to look the other way, with border officials accepting bribes, providing letters of safe passage or, in the worst case scenario, detaining them for a few days without being extradited.