SAN JOSÉ, Nov 23 2015 (IPS) – Thousands of Cubans heading for the United States have been stranded at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border since mid-November, waiting for the authorities in Managua to authorise their passage north.Just over 2,500 Cubans are waiting in northern Costa Rica, the majority in temporary shelters opened by the local authorities. After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance when they reached Nicaragua, which closed the border and denied them passage.
“We’re desperate to get to the United States because we want a better future for our children and for ourselves,” said Arley Alonso Ferrarez, a Cuban migrant, in a video provided by the Costa Rican government’s National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission.
Alonso and the other Cubans stuck at the Nicaraguan border are seeking refuge under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.
The exodus was fuelled once again this year by the fear that the thaw between the Cuban and U.S. governments, which began in December 2014 and has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties, would result in the modification or elimination of the special treatment received by Cuban immigrants to the United States.
Cubans have been making their way to the United States through Central America for several years now, but the phenomenon had gone unnoticed until the Costa Rican government adopted measures in early November to fight the trafficking of persons through this country.
That cut short the flow of undocumented immigrants and revealed the scale of the movement of Cubans from Ecuador to the United States.
“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” Cuban migrant Ignacio Valdés told the local newspaper La Nación, referring to the dangers faced along the lengthy journey. “We’ve been robbed, we were forced to jump into the sea between Colombia and Panama, some girls were even raped, and the police stole from us.”
After the Nov. 10 arrest of members of the trafficking ring which smuggled migrants through Costa Rican territory, Cubans began to be stranded in groups along the southern border of the country.
That forced the authorities to issue seven-day safe conducts, to regulate their passage to Nicaragua. But that country completely sealed its border on Nov. 15, and blocked the entrance of Cubans when it reopened the border the next day.
By Diego Arguedas Ortiz