BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 18, 2016–Over the weekend, the first group of Cubans—a handful 180 out of 10,000 US-bound Cubans stranded in Central America—arrived in Florida, through a program recently arranged by three Central American countries and Mexico, as some fear that the window of opportunity for them to take advantage of a US migration policy preferential to Cubans may be reaching its end.
Costa Rica president Luis Guillermo Sólis told Amandala in a recent interview that by formalizing the migration of Cubans to the US—a migration process which has been ongoing in a clandestine fashion for several years, using cayotes—“we destroyed a network of traffickers in the country and a whole chain of events unraveled afterwards.”
Things changed, though, when Nicaragua decided to close its borders in mid-November, and Costa Rica decided to stop issuing transit visas to the Cubans in December, after they began experiencing problems passing through other countries.
As long as no change is introduced to US legislation, the Cuban migrants will continue to travel north with or without visas, but without visas, they will become entangled with the cayotes who operate “a very profitable business throughout the world,” larger than weapons or even drug smuggling, Sólis said.
Sólis said that Costa Rica, which views the plight of the Cubans as “a humanitarian cause,” had issued more than 8,500 transit visas to Cubans, and it has been costing that country $23,000 a day to take care of them.
With the pilot transfer last week, which saw 180 Cubans make it to US shores this weekend, the Costa Rican president anticipates that it will take “a few months” to move the whole population over to the USA.
The migrants leave Costa Rica by air to El Salvador, since they cannot travel overland through Nicaragua, and once in Salvador they travel North to Guatemala and then to Mexico.
Belize had declined Costa Rica’s request to let the migrants pass through our territory, as the country has taken the position that it would want to see a regional solution to the problem, perhaps effected through the Central American Integration System (SICA). Sólis said that he has no animosity whatsoever against Belize for its decision, but added that if Belize were to agree to participate in the program to help the Cubans reach the US, it would expedite the travel of migrants.
“It is an issue that the Belizean government should decide,” the president said.
He said that the Belize Cabinet now has a working example to point to which shows that the Cubans won’t be sent back by Mexico or the US and that the costs won’t fall back on the state.
He said that the Cubans, who have been aided by the UN, the International Organization for Migration, and the human rights prosecutors’ offices throughout Central America, are paying for their way at $550 each and the transit takes only a few hours.
“We would welcome inclusion of Belize in the program,” he added.
(Interview by Marisol Amaya, KREM TV news editor, for Amandala.)