San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Cuban migrants

Cuban migration in Central America in limbo after Nicaragua refuses to budge

Nearly 3,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica still have no way to legally reach the United States after an emergency meeting of Central American foreign ministers in San Salvador ended Tuesday without an agreement.

Despite the support of other Central American Integration System (SICA) member states at the meeting, the proposed “humanitarian corridor” through Central America was defeated after Nicaragua remained the lone holdout by refusing to offer safe passage to Cuban migrants, according to a statement from the Costa Rica Foreign Ministry Tuesday evening.

The meeting in San Salvador brought together foreign ministers from the SICA member states – Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador –as well as Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Cuba, to discuss solutions to the Cuban migrant crisis that has been building in Costa Rica since the dismantling of a human smuggling network here on Nov. 11.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González had blistering words for Nicaragua’s “intransigence” at the meeting.

“I have to say it like it is. Today SICA was wounded and the one that did it should take responsibility. It is unacceptable to toy with the pain of others,” González said.

“It’s ironic that Nicaragua comes here to talk and defend Central American migrants and then blocks a reasonable solution when it has not even addressed the migration of thousands of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica for decades,” the minister added.

Earlier in the day, Nicaraguan Foreign Vice Minister Dennis Moncada read the country’s position from a statement after the first round ended without a solution.

“Nicaragua maintains its position that it should not be pressured into legitimizing illegal [immigration] policies” and “demands the Costa Rica government take the necessary measures to remove from our border all” Cubans, Moncada said.

Moncada went on to echo criticisms made by Cuban President Raúl Castro against the U.S. immigration policy that favors Cubans. The United States “has a responsibility to correct and change the current crisis,” he said, “accepting once and for all … a new era of dialogue and respect in its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Costa Rica’s González called for the meeting after the Nicaraguan army used tear gas and truncheons to turn back several hundred Cubans who tried to cross the border at Peñas Blancas on Nov. 15. Costa Rica started issuing temporary transit visas to the migrants after its decision to briefly close its southern border to the migrants between Nov. 11 and Nov. 14. Unable to pass, the number of migrants continues to mount without a way forward.

Meanwhile, in San José, President Luis Guillermo Solís stopped in on a meeting between Central American bishops from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The bishops signed a letter supporting the “humanitarian corridor” proposed by Costa Rica. Central America is no stranger to the plight of migrants crossing borders illegally, the bishops said in their letter, calling for the safety of the Cuban migrants as they travel to the U.S.

The letter called for an “immediate solution” to the migrant crisis, saying that the humanitarian corridor would “protect them from mafias that traffic and take advantage of their vulnerability when they pass through our lands as irregular migrants.”

According to immigration authorities nearly 300 Cuban migrants continue to arrive at Costa Rica’s southern border with Panama every day. Leading up to the talks Tuesday, Costa Rican emergency organizations announced they would establish three new shelters designed to house an additional 470 Cuban migrants. As of Sunday, 1,996 Cuban migrants were staying in 11 different shelters in La Cruz, Upala and Liberia.

AFP contributed to this report

Contact Zach Dyer at

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Ken Morris

I heard on the street that a solution had been reached to put the Cubans on boats to Guatemala, though I gather that was just a rumor. You have to ask yourself though why the leaders didn’t hammer out an alernative solution like this, assuming they didn’t.

Clearly Nicaragua is bent on maintaining its close ties with Cuba, and this was always one possible outcome. It’s also what Costa Rica would do with a close ally of it. Part of being an ally is sticking together. Costa Rica should have considered this before it got itself involved in state-sponsored human trafficking and expecting Nicaragua to go along with it. Nope, some countries actually uphold their laws.

And as for González ranting about Nicas in Costa Rica, I’m afraid I expected no less. It’s been apparent from the start that he’s a Nica-hating Tico, though he may make an exception for his Nica maid. The previous foreign minister had a Nica maid. Ticos love to hate Nicas, just prefer that Nicas clean their toilets.

And the analogy doesn’t even apply. Sure, lots of Nicas enter Costa Rica illegally, or more often enter legally and then overstay their visas. But this isn’t official policy of the Nicaraguan government. Neither has the Nicaraguan government ever supplied them with bogus visas and dumped them off at Costa Rica’s border.

Basically, Costa Rica broke its own law, violated Cuba’s law, thumbed its nose at international conventions against human trafficking, and then demanded that Nicaragua do the same–only to pitch a humanitarian hissy fit when Nicaragua refused.

This is another instance in which Costa Rica has thoroughly mishandled diplomacy with Nicaragua, though I don’t get the impression that it cares to have good diplomatic relations. It seems to prefer demonizing Nicas.

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I think that Solis should close our borders to all Nicaraguans, which can be revoked when Noriega is dead.

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