San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica calls for regional meeting to address flood of Cuban migrants

Costa Rica Foreign Minister Manuel González called Tuesday for a regional meeting to establish a humanitarian corridor for Cuban migrants traveling to the United States. Several thousand Cuban migrants are stuck in Costa Rica as Nicaragua has refused entry to them since last Friday. The meeting, for which a date had yet to be set Tuesday afternoon, would include transit countries traveled through by the Cuban migrants, including Ecuador, Colombia, the Central American countries and Mexico, as well as Cuba.

“We need to come to an agreement and keep migrants from falling into the hands of [criminal] networks and coyotes, because let’s remember the objective of these migrants is to reach the United States and they’re going to do everything in their power to achieve it,” González said in a statement Tuesday.

Nicaragua, which until recently served as a receiving country for Cuban migrants detained in Costa Rica, stopped accepting Cuban migrants on Friday, Nov. 13. The country turned back 100 Cubans deported by Costa Rican authorities that day.

Then, on Sunday, the Nicaraguan army confronted several hundred Cuban migrants who tried to cross the border en masse, illegally, at Peñas Blancas, firing tear gas into the crowd and injuring several. Nicaragua requires Cuban nationals to obtain visas prior to arriving at the border.

Tuesday, after five days of waiting at Peñas Blancas, Cubans blocked the Inter-American Highway in protest of Nicaragua’s unwillingness to them in.

There are currently 700 Cubans staying at five shelters established by the National Emergency Commission, Costa Rican Red Cross, International Organization for Migration and U.N. High Commission on Refugees in La Cruz and at Peñas Blancas, according to a statement from the Commission. The Ombudsman’s Office has said that the temporary conditions for the migrants are acceptable.

President Luis Guillermo Solís said Costa Rica is committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the Cubans and to making sure their basic needs are met as they wait to cross into Nicaragua.

As thousands of migrants from Cuba try to reach the U.S. via the overland route through Central America, dozens of their compatriots have been turned back at sea. On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard returned to the island 39 Cubans who tried to cross the Straights of Florida. Under the U.S.’s so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard at sea are returned to the island. They are only allowed to stay in the U.S. if they reach the U.S. mainland.

“The U.S. immigration laws have not changed so we urge people to not try to cross the sea in rafts that aren’t made for sailing,” U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor said. “It’s illegal and it’s extremely dangerous.”

AFP contributed to this report. 

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Ken Morris

If this reporting is correct, you have to ask: Can’t Costa Rica stop trying to manipulate other countries, especially Nicaragua, and just treat them with respect?

Of course a regional meeting needs to be called, since many different countries are involved and potentially involved. Costa Rica should have done this the first day.

However, you don’t call a regional meeting and declare at the outset what the outcome of that meeting must be, as Foreign Minister Manuel González apparently did when he called for a meeting “to establish a humanitarian corridor for Cuban migrants traveling to the United States.” No, if you call a meeting about the Cuban immigrant problem, you show enough courtesy to an respect for the other countries involved not to tell them what decision they must reach at the meeting. At the meeting, Costa Rica is free to argue in favor of establishing a corridor for the Cubans, but other countries must remain free to favor other solutions, even sending the Cubans back to Cuba (which is what the US would do).

To call a meeting that tells the participants in advance what conclusion they must reach is not to call a real meeting but to engineer another charade that just sets up any country that doesn’t agree with Costa Rica’s predetermined conclusion to look bad.

If I were the other countries, especially Nicaragua, I would boycott the meeting until Costa Rica changes the agenda from its predetermined one to one that actually welcomes the input from the other countries and genuinely seeks a consensus solution.

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