Cuban migrant crisis on agenda as Costa Rican president visits Havana

Part-MVD-Mvd6735492-1-1-0HAVANA, Dec. 14th  (AFP) – Costa Rica’s president landed in Havana Sunday amid mounting regional tension over the fate of thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica en route to the United States.

President Luis Guillermo Solis confirmed the issue would be part of his talks with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro but offered few other details on the two-day trip. “The issue is on the agenda,” Solis said at the Cuban capital’s Jose Marti International Airport.

“But we also are finishing the process of normalizing relations” with Latin America’s only Communist regime, he added. The growing flow of Cuban migrants through Central America became choked last month when Costa Rica dismantled a people-smuggling ring and Nicaragua, a Cuban ally, closed its border to them.

Cubans fleeing their island overwhelmingly are seeking to reach the United States, which has a longstanding policy of giving them immediate residency and the right to work, if they set foot on US soil.

That has left 5,000 Cubans stuck in Costa Rica near the Nicaraguan border. An additional 1,200 are blocked in a remote town in Panama in what authorities there have said are unhealthy conditions.

The issue has fanned simmering tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, developing into a regional headache. A recent foreign ministers meeting failed to break the impasse. An estimated 150 Cubans a day are arriving in Costa Rica in hopes of continuing their voyage overland to the United States.

Their main entry point to South America from Cuba until recently was Ecuador, an ally which up to this month required no visa for Cubans to visit. But faced with the growing inflow, Ecuador has reimposed a visa requirement.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica has had to scramble to set up refugee centers in school buildings to avoid the situation turning into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.