Costa Rica has stopped over 1,000 Cubans from entering the country as renewed US-Cuba diplomatic ties spark a wave of migration. As relations thaw, many Cubans fear their virtual free pass into the US could soon end.
Some 1,200 migrants, mostly Cuban nationals as well as some Asians and Africans, forced their way across the Panamanian border into Costa Rica on Wednesday in an effort to reach the United States.
The confrontation occurred at the Paso Canoas border crossing and drew a sharp rebuke from Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez. He said at a press conference that migrants were wrong to think they could force their way across the border.
"If they are trying to swamp Costa Rica by sending in avalanches of people, they are mistaken," he said. "With force, not even their little toes will enter."
The country had just finished working through a backlog of 7,800 Cuban immigrants who had been stranded there since December, when Nicaragua, a Cuban ally, closed its borders. The Cubans were eventually flown to El Salvador and Mexico and on to the US, where they were admitted.
US President Barack Obama's recent rapprochement with Cuba has apparently sparked an exodus from the communist island on a scale not seen in decades. During the fiscal year ending in September 2015, more than 43,000 Cubans arrived by land or sea in the United States.
Fears of warmer US-Cuban ties
For decades, Cubans who reached the shores of the United States were put on a fast track to political asylum and eventual American citizenship. Recently the two countries re-established diplomatic relations, and last month Obama made a historic trip to the still-communist island. These developments have sparked fears among Cubans that the warmer ties may soon lead to an end to Cubans being granted near-automatic entry into the US, resulting in a new exodus from the island that lies just 90 miles across the Florida straits.
While many of the potential asylum-seekers who forced their way across the Costa Rican border Wednesday reportedly returned to Panama some hours later, that country says it is sheltering more than 2,300 Cubans along the border.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis slammed the US asylum policy, which he called a relic of the Cold War. Popularly known as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, US authorities repatriate Cubans picked up in the shark-infested waters between Cuba and Florida, but any who arrive on American shores get to stay.
Solis said the policy promotes irregular migratory flows by providing "a perverse incitement" for Cubans to try to get to the United States regardless of the obstacles.
The US approach, according to a statement from Solis' office, "fosters conditions for human trafficking."
bik/kl (AFP, AP)