Costa Rica on Tuesday warned it should not be seen as an “open bridge” to America after striking a deal to start shipping out stranded Cuban migrants to other Central American countries.
“We do not have the resources” to take in any more Cuban migrants, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez told reporters.
The message to Cubans aiming to get to the US was “not to keep coming to Costa Rica,” he said.
Helping out the Cubans now “does not mean… we have opened the gates to everyone to flow to the United States and we are going to serve as an open bridge for them to travel to the United States.”
Gonzalez’s words came a day after Costa Rica announced it would fly out an initial group of the up to 8,000 Cuban migrants currently stuck on its territory to El Salvador, where they would be put on a bus to Guatemala then taken into Mexico for entry at the US border.
The hard-won agreement was a breakthrough after weeks of Central American nations snubbing Costa Rica’s pleas to allow the Cubans to move on.
– ‘Discretion’ over details –
The other countries involved are tight-lipped about the exercise, with Gonzalez saying they wanted “discretion”.
Gonzalez was speaking at the airport in Liberia, a city in northern Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua, after he and President Luis Guillermo Solis met with the US ambassador, Fitzgerald Haney, and a visiting US congresswoman Kay Granger, on the issues of the Cubans and immigration policy generally.
The US officials declined to speak to AFP.
The group of Cubans was expected to depart from the airport in Liberia sometime in the middle of next week.
The Costa Rican foreign minister said the logistics of the “pilot plan” to fly out the Cubans were still being worked out, including how many would be in the initial group.
“It could be 50, 100, 200 — it depends on the size of the aircraft,” he said, adding priority would be given to “family groups.”
Gonzalez noted it was tourist high season in Central America so available plane seats for the operation were scarce, and the Cubans themselves would have to bear the cost.
– Hard-won deal –
The migrants became stranded when Nicaragua, a Cuban ally, in mid-November closed its border to them.
After a month of fruitless diplomacy with the other member nations of the Central American Integration System (SICA) to let them pass, Costa Rica suspended its political participation in the body, meant to promote regional cooperation.
It also announced that from December 18 it was no longer handing out transit visas to arriving Cuban migrants and would deport them back to their Communist-ruled island. Fifty-six are already being processed to be sent home.
On Monday, at an ad-hoc meeting of some Central American countries, Mexico and the International Organization for Migration, the deal was struck to start flying out the Cubans.
It followed an appeal last Sunday by Pope Francis for Central America to end the Cubans’ “humanitarian drama.”
The number of Cubans trying to get to the United States jumped this year, following a December 2014 announcement by Washington and Havana that they were thawing relations frozen since the Cold War.
Many Cubans fear that the rapprochement will put an end to America’s longstanding policy of taking them in if they make it over a land border.
With the US Coast Guard sending back any Cubans intercepted in the waters of the Florida Straits, Cubans increasingly have sought to make the overland journey through Central America and Mexico.
Thousands flew to Ecuador, a South American ally of Cuba’s that allowed them easy entry — until the beginning of this month, when it abruptly reinstated a visa policy.