A prior post discussed the conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over Cubans trying to traverse Central American countries on their way to the United States. Since then, the foreign ministers of the eight countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and of other interested countries (Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia) held an inconclusive meeting to discuss that situation and thereafter Ecuador announced a change in its policies for Cuban migrants. Here is a summary of those developments.
Situation of Cubans in Central America
An estimated 3,000 Cubans are now stuck in Costa Rica over Nicaragua’s refusing to allow their entry into that country for their journey to the U.S. Many of these Cubans have smart phones and social media that have assisted them in their trek from Ecuador to Central America and, they hope, on to the U.S.
SICA Foreign Ministers Meeting
The situation of the Cuban migrants was the focus of the just mentioned SICA meeting on Tuesday (November 24) . Note that the U.S. was not present or invited.
The situation was prompted by Nicaragua’s refusing to admit Cuban migrants from Costa Rica. Nicaragua said Costa Rica had created and manipulated this crisis by seeking to ignore the real cause: the U.S. immigration policies that need to be changed. “Our governments do not have the resources to deal with this new threat to our national security,” suggesting that Nicaragua was faced with the wave of Cubans that could facilitate terrorism or migrants from other countries. Nicaragua also criticized the Cold-War-era U.S. policies that allow the Cubans special status as migrants.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Cubans in Costa Rica came legally to different nations of Latin America, with all the requirements established by the migratory regulations of their country. “In an attempt to reach U.S. territory, [however,] they have become victims of traffickers and criminal gangs, which unscrupulously profit from the control of the passage of these people through South America, Central America and Mexico.” Moreover, Cuba stated that the migrants also were victims of the politicization of the migration issue by the U.S. government, through the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet-foot, dry-foot policy.”
Cuba also said it has remained in contact with the governments of the countries involved. Indeed, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, visited officials of its allies, Ecuador and Nicaragua, on November 19 and 20 respectfully to discuss the situation.
Ecuador supported Nicaragua’s position by saying that under international law creation of humanitarian corridors only applies in situations of war or armed conflict which was not the case here.
The Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hugo Martinez, afterwards said it was necessary to reach a comprehensive solution that addressed the current immigration crisis. He also said that El Salvador will ask the International Organization for Migration to support Costa Rica in shelter conditions for the Cuban migrants. However, he said, allowing the passage of the migrants was subject to the “principle of self-determination” of each of the SICA countries and that the migration was not encouraged by the country of origin (Cuba) or by the Central American countries, but by the U.S. with its special immigration policies for Cubans.
After the meeting Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Manuel Gonzalez, said that Nicaragua had refused again to cooperate in finding and adopting a solution for the migrants.
The solution proposed by Costa Rica was an arrangement to enable the safe, orderly and documented transit of the Cuban migrants so that they would avoid falling prey to international trafficking networks. According to Gonzalez, Nicaragua objected to this proposal and did not present any viable alternative approach.
Ecuador’s Requiring Visas for Cubans
On November 26 Ecuador announced that effective December 1 it will require Cubans to have visas to enter the country. Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Xavier Lasso, said this change was to honor commitments it made at the SICA meeting “to stop human rights violations and even loss of lives” and to halt threats to Cuba’s population. Lasso also urged the U.S. to rescind its “dry feet” immigration policy so that Cubans would no longer attempt this journey.
The next day hundreds of Cubans gathered at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Havana to protest the new visa policy. They were angry because they say they had bought airplane tickets to Ecuador before visas were required. An Embassy spokesman said the Cubans would have to get a new visa and speak to the airlines about refunds.
I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land in the U.S. and the risk that these benefits will be eliminated are prompting many Cubans to try to come to the U.S. as soon as possible. I also agree that these U.S. laws and policies should be eliminated as soon as possible. In a future post I will attempt at least a preliminary legal analysis of the claim that the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this.
I also agree that the U.S. should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts. Again I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)
The continuation of these U.S. immigration laws and policies will clearly be at the top of the Cuban agenda for the biannual round of bilateral discussion of migration issues in Washington, D.C. on November 30. Now Cuba will emphasize the recent Cuban migrant situation in Central America as an additional reason for prompt U.S. action.
I originally was baffled by the U.S.’ continued assertions that there would be no changes in U.S. immigration policies regarding Cuba because those policies, in my opinion, are so illogical and inappropriate for countries with normal relations. Now I suspect that those assertions were based upon the Administration’s assessment of the difficulty (or impossibility) in obtaining Congressional approval of any necessary legislative changes on these issues and the Administration’s belief or hope that such assertions would discourage Cubans from immediately accelerating their plans or desire to leave Cuba for the U.S.
I reach these conclusions even though I suspect that Nicaragua’s precipitating the current problem in Central America was at the request of its close ally, Cuba, because, in my opinion, (a) Nicaragua would not do anything regarding Cuba against the latter’s wishes; (b) Cuba is concerned about the number of Cubans leaving the island and with Nicaragua’s assistance perhaps could stop a major route for such an exodus; (c) Cuba would like to have another occasion or reason to blame the U.S. for the problem; and (d) Nicaragua’s complaints against Costa Rica are absurd. I also believe, for similar reasons, that Ecuador’s recent requirement of visas for Cubans was at the request of Cuba.
 Assoc. Press, Social Media Helps Drive Historic Cuban Exodus to US, N.Y. Times (Nov. 23, 2015).
 Sica meeting will address situation of Cuban migrants in Central America, Granma (Nov. 20, 2015); Cuban Foreign Minister held working visit to Ecuador and Nicaragua, Granma (Nov. 22, 2015); Begins Tuesday SICA meeting on migration in Central America, Granma (Nov. 23, 2015); Moran, Cuban migration could generate humanitarian crisis, ContraPunto (Nov. 23, 2015); Assoc. Press, Central American Officials Meet on Cuban Migrant Problem, N.Y> Times (Nov. 24, 2015); Foreign Ministers Discuss in El Salvador on Cuban Migrants Situation, Prensa Latina (Nov. 24, 2015); SICA meeting solution Cuban migrants issue in Costa Rica, CubaDebate (Nov. 24, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Nicaragua PREVENTS regional and humanitarian solution for protection of Cuban Migrants (Nov. 24, 2015); Moran, Nicaragua blocks outlet for Cuban immigrants, ContraPunto (Nov. 24, 2015); SICA Meeting in El Salvador: Regional gathering discusses situation of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica, Granma (Nov. 25, 2015); Gomez, Central America, a broker of broken dreams, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).
 Ecuador Foreign Ministry, Ecuador requests tourist visas to Cubans starting December 1 (Nov. 26, 2015); From December 1 Ecuador requires visas for Cubans, El Commercio (Nov. 26, 2015); Ecuador asked the Cuban visa from December 1 (+ Note of the Foreign Ministry), CubaDebate (Nov. 26, 2015); Ecuador announces visa requirement for Cubans, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015); Assoc. Press, Ecuador to Require Cubans to Get Entry Visas, N.Y. times (Nov. 26, 2015); Cubans need visas to enter Ecuador again, LaHora (Nov. 27, 2015); Soraya, Ecuador puts a stop to the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Nov. 27, 2015).
 Reuters, Cubans Protest New Ecuador Visa Regulation, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Hundreds Gather in Havana in Frustration at Ecuador Visa Rule, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2015).
 E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).
 E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014)
 Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States will hold a new round of migration talks, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Migration Talks, Counter-Narcotics Dialogue (Nov. 25, 2015)
6 thoughts on “Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America”
Comment: More Details on Cuba-Ecuador Relations Regarding Cuban Migrants
On November 28, Cuba’s Granma newspaper reported that the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry stated that the new Ecuadorian tourist visa requirement “does not close the doors to our Cuban brothers and sisters, who can do the registration and relevant tourist visa application. The [Ecuadorian] authorities . . . will consider favorably all requests for visa [from] Cubans who have purchased their ticket before November 26, 2015 and [who] do not involve the possibility of submission to unscrupulous networks that violate their rights.” (Emphasis added.)
In addition, the Ecuadorian authorities stated that Cubans “who have purchased your ticket and do not qualify for obtaining a tourist visa should refer to the conditions and/ or contracts with the respective transportation company.” (Emphasis added.)
These points were emphasized at a November 28 press conference by officials at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Havana with promises of prompt processing of applications for visas.
Also on November 28 the Association of Cuban Residents in Ecuador adopted a declaration
• “First: Our unconditional respect for the laws and regulations of Ecuador and especially to sovereign measures taken as a result of the meeting of foreign ministers of the Central American Integration System (SICA), plus Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia held recently in San Salvador, regarding Cuban migrants found in Costa Rica bound for the United States.”
• “Second : With sadness we have seen a group of citizens, encouraged by the policy of feet, dry feet wet, called Program Parole for Cuban medical professionals and the disastrous Cuban Adjustment Act, seek to pursue the American dream by illegal migration to the United States, using Ecuador as one of the transit points.”
• “Third : we would be silent accomplices of smuggling and human trafficking coming lacerating our Latin American and Caribbean peoples, and threatens to children, women and men.”
• “Fourth: We call for these laws and murderous practices prompted from the United States and the traffickers mafias people, that encourage illegal emigration from Cuba, and constitute a violation of human rights and migration agreements between Cuba repeal and the United States.”
• “Fifth turn call for an end to mistreatment of the Cuban community in airports and call for the broadest solidarity between associations of Cuban residents in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Both Ecuador and Cuba assert that the new Ecuadorian visa requirement benevolently was adopted to protect Cuban migrants from risks of traveling from Ecuador to the U.S., but, in my opinion, the real purpose is to stop Cuba’s exodus of younger Cubans.
Official statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, Granma (Nov. 28, 2015), http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2015-11-28/comunicado-oficial-del-ministerio-de-relaciones-exteriores-de-ecuador-28-11-2015-20-11-38
Gomez, Consul in Havana committed to working with all speed, Granma (Nov. 28, 2015), http://www.granma.cu/mundo/2015-11-27/consul-en-la-habana-nos-comprometemos-a-trabajar-con-la-mayor-celeridad-27-11-2015-23-11-24
Declaration of the Association of Cuban Residents in Ecuador, Granma (Nov. 28, 2015), http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2015-11-28/declaracion-de-la-asociacion-de-cubanos-residentes-en-ecuador-28-11-2015-21-11-20