Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing                    

This year Cameroon’s human rights record is the subject of its third  Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior posts reviewed the nature of the UPR process and the pre-hearing papers for this UPR. Now we review Cameroon’s May 16 UPR hearing with a focus on the various comments made about the current conflict between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones.[1]

This hearing was limited to 3 ½ hours (210 minutes) and each of the 76 countries was limited to 1 minute 25 seconds (85 seconds).

Cameroon Government’s Comments

The Cameroon Government opened the hearing with comments by H.E. Mr. Mbella Mbella, its Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Near the end of his remarks, he said, “The social crisis in the North-West and South-West (Anglophone regions) began at the end of 2015 with strikes of lawyers and teachers. In response the government created the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to protect and ensure the balance of security and freedom.”

Earlier he laboriously discussed the process of preparing this national report, the implementation of recommendations from the prior UPR, the ratification of various human rights treaties, the adoption of the National Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the records of prosecutions and convictions for violations of human rights.

U.N.  Members’ Comments

There were 76 governments that made comments at the hearing (32 of whom were also Human Rights Council members plus 44 other U.N. members). Most of the comments and recommendations concerned Cameroon’s ratifying and enforcing various international human rights treaties, protecting the rights of children, women and LGBTQ people and other topics.

However, only the following 14 countries specifically addressed the current conflict between the Francophone-Anglophone communities:

  • Australia. Concerned about “recent violence between Cameroon security forces and protesting minority groups in [its] South-West and North-West [regions].” Recommends Cameroon “lift unnecessary restrictions on freedom of assembly, investigate alleged excessive use of force in disbursing demonstrators and assure arrested protestors receive fair trials.”
  • Austria. Concerned about “deterioration of the situation of the communities in the Anglophone regions of the country.” Recommended “ending the practice of secret detentions and ensure that no one is detained in a secret site, including unregistered military detention sites.” Recommended Cameroon “engage in a dialogue at the policy level with representatives of the Anglophone communities so as to identify appropriate measures to adequately respond to the violence affecting the South-West and North-West regions.”
  • Belgium. Concerned about “repressive approach in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon that runs the risk of exacerbating violent tendencies when there is a need for dialogue.” Recommended that Cameroon “take appropriate measures to ensure that the security forces act in compliance with laws and international human rights standards, conduct “independent and transparent inquiries on allegations of excessive use of force and bring perpetrators to justice.”
  • Canada.. Expressed “condolences to families of victims of violence… especially … as a result of tensions linked to claims of Anglophone community in North-West and South-West. Recommended that Cameroon “engage in sustained dialogue with representatives of the Anglophone community in North-West and South-West so as to provide consensus-based solutions while upholding human rights.”
  • Chile. Concerned with “general crime environment that exists in the English-speaking areas of the country as well as the accepted use of force against protestors in these regions.”
  • Czech Republic. Recommended “investigation of alleged torture and other ill treatment of other detained persons and incommunicado detainees.” Recommended “recognition of the right of citizens to express their views in dealing with programs of the English-speaking provinces.”
  • Germany. Concerned about reports of “violations of freedom of press and assembly, especially in the English-speaking areas of the country.”
  • Haiti. Recommended “effective implementation of the official Bilingualism Policy in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure equal treatment of the English-speaking minority.”
  • Honduras. Recommended “effective implementation of the Bilingualism Policy so as to ensure the English-speaking population does not suffer discrimination in employment, education and access to legal services.”
  • Republic of Korea. Recommended that Cameroon “redouble its efforts for the full and effective implementation of the official bilingual policy and ensure that the Anglophone minority are not subject to inequality in access to public services, administration of justice and freedom of speech. “
  • Slovakia. Concerned by “reports of human rights violations and abuses such as arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial executions by government forces and armed forces against members of the country’s Anglophone minority.”
  • Switzerland. Concerned by “violations of fundamental freedoms in the framework of the Anglophone crisis and anti-terrorism efforts. Demonstrations have been violently repressed and arbitrary arrests and detentions in difficult conditions have been made. “ Recommended that Cameroon’s “anti-terrorism law be reviewed and amended to ensure it is not used to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. “Recommended that “any reported cases of violations or abuses by Cameroon’s security forces are subjected to independent inquiry and prosecution.”
  • United Kingdom. Noted that “the Anglophone crisis has led to violence and disruption to many people and urged the government and all parties to fully respect and guard human rights.” Recommended that the government “allow various international agencies to have access to Anglophone separatists leaders extradited by Nigeria and held incommunicado by Cameroon since January 2018.”
  • United States. U.S. expressed concern overcredible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by security forces.  We call on the government to credibly investigate these allegations and hold those responsible to account.  We are also concerned by reports of harassment and intimidation of youth, civil society, journalists, and opposition leaders, particularly in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression.” (Emphases added.)

The U.S. also called on the Cameroon government “to respect the human rights of everyone, including the 47 [Anglophone] Cameroonians forcibly returned from Nigerian custody to Cameroonian authorities in January.  We expect the government of Cameroon to afford all individuals detained all of the rights and protections provided under domestic and international law.” (Emphasis added.)

 Finally the U.S. made these recommendations: “(1) Acknowledge and investigate credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and hold those responsible to account.(2) Respect the rights of peaceful assembly, and freedoms of association and expression, including when exercised online, and afford all of those detained all the rights enshrined in Cameroon’s constitution and under international law. (3) Decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations and immediately cease targeted discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons.”[2]

It also is noteworthy that France, which governed what is now the Francophone area of Cameroon after World War I until 1960, made comments without saying anything about the current Francophone-Anglophone conflict. Nor did two members of the troika for this UPR—Iraq and South Africa—while the third member of that group—United Kingdom—did as noted above.

Cameroon Government’s Response

At the end of the hearing, Cameroon’s Foreign Minister made a lengthy response to the many comments made by the other countries. He ended those remarks with the following extensive comments about the “Anglophone problem.”

“After World War II, under U.N. supervision, we obtained independence from France and the United Kingdom and created a single country by merging the two colonial states. There were not separate English-speaking and French-speaking countries, and now these linguistic groups have merged and are mixed and cannot be separated.”

“At the end of 2016 there was a corporate clamor by lawyers and teachers’ unions in the South-West and North-West. The government responded to these claims, and now no unions are making claims.”

“Some extremists used the unions claims to question the structure of the state by arguing for federalism. But the Constitution did not permit federalism. Instead the President asked for dialogue. Thus, the Prime Minister and Head of government intervened to conduct dialogue with the North-West and South-West. This resulted in a major decision to create the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, which recognized the country was a multi-ethnic state with different linguistic communications.”

“Nevertheless, the extremists continued to commit acts of violence—burning houses, kidnapping, rape and destructive calls for hatred of communities.”

“But there is no Anglophone problem as such. Instead the government is working for some decentralization without giving in to the violence. There has been progress in these efforts. Not all are asking for a separate country.”

“The states in the North-West and South-West maintain law and order and seek to protect the people against abuses and to assure freedom of expression and movement without violence.”

“Some of the protesters have treated law enforcement officers like animals by cutting off their arms and feet. No one will tolerate this.”

“There are no extrajudicial executions.”

“Pursuant to Cameroon’s extradition treaty with Nigeria, Cameroon requested, and Nigeria granted, extradition of 47 Cameroonians who had committed acts of terrorism in Cameroon. They are not refugees. In Cameroon they are properly housed and will answer to the rule of law with assistance of counsel. They were not arbitrarily arrested. Instead they were arrested in Nigeria pursuant to international arrest warrants.”

“There is freedom of expression in Cameroon marked by openness in media. There are 1,200 publications, 25 private television channels, 25 private cable channels and 107 private radio stations. This freedom of expression has been enhanced by a 2015 law about electronic communications and the creation of a special fund for audio-visual communications.”

“In 2017 there was a temporary suspension of the internet in the North-West and South-West due to some messages promoting violence. On April 20, 2017 the Minister of Communications advised global operators to reset connections.”

Conclusion

The final stage of the Cameroon UPR will take place in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

The comments about the Francophone-Anglophone conflict by 14 countries and by the Foreign Minister’s concluding comments will be discussed in a future post. Another post will address this blogger’s general reactions to the UPR process that are raised by his review of the recent UPR process for Cameroon and for Cuba.

=====================================

[1] U.N. Human Rts. Council,  Cameroon Review—30th Session of Universal Periodic Review (May 16, 2018)  The following quotations and analysis of the comments by the Cameroon Foreign Minister and by U.N. members are based upon listening to their recorded comments in English or translated into English by U.N. interpreters when some of their voices were difficult to hear or understand. Thus, there may be errors in the following account of their comments. The exception is the U.S. which published its comments on the website for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Geneva.

[2] U.S. Mission, Geneva Switzerland, U.S. Statement at the UPR of Cameroon (May 16, 2018).

 

Developments Regarding the Summit of the Americas 

Later this week the Summit of the Americans takes place in Lima, Peru. Interesting  developments regarding the Summit have taken place from the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Developments[1]

On April 10 President Trump cancelled his scheduled attendance at the Summit of the Americans in Peru. The stated reason was his need to attend to the new crisis in Syria: the Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on some of its citizens and President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. was considering a military response.

The New York Times reporter, Julie Davis, said, “Scrapping the trip spared Mr. Trump potentially unpleasant interactions with leaders of Latin American nations whose citizens have been insulted by his harsh language about their countries as sources of illegal immigration, criminal gangs and illicit narcotics. White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence would attend the summit meeting in the president’s place.

“Skipping the Summit of the Americas sends a terrible message about U.S. disengagement in our hemisphere, compounding negative message of Trump’s Cuba, NAFTA and immigration policies,” was the opinion of Benjamin J. Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Obama’s White House and who was the principal negotiator of the U.S.’ opening to Cuba in December 2014.

A similar opinion was voiced by Richard E. Feinberg, a senior Latin America fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. He said, “Trump’s dropping out of the Lima summit is an appalling demonstration of disrespect for Latin America. “This has to be seen in the context of a president who has been ranting and railing against Latin America continually for the last several years. They’re his bête noire. They’re his scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in America, from immigration to narcotics to alleged loss of jobs from trade.”

A more nuanced opinion was offered by Christopher Sabatini, executive director of Global Americans, a group promoting better engagement in the region. He said,  “The truth is, given the level of discourse on trade, immigrants and intervention coming from this administration, not paying much attention to the region may be welcome by a number of governments as they search for their own alternatives. The question though is what it means for U.S. leadership, not just now but over the long term.”

The region’s leaders  seemed to be taking the U.S. decision in stride, reflecting some of the unease generated by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and growing economic self-confidence in a region long resentful of Washington’s dominance.

The U.S. State Department announced that Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will accompany Vice President Mike Pence at the Summit, where the U.S. “will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy; addressing the political and humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela; stemming corruption and transnational crime, and promoting economic prosperity.” Sullivan will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The State Department noted that Sullivan “will also engage with members of Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society.” Apparently he will avoid meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In another release the Department said it had “received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit . . . .  Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

The Department’s release further stated that the U.S. “condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” As a result, the U.S. “stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime. We are working with the Government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuba and the hemisphere.”

At the Press Briefing the same day, the Department said that on April 12 Sullivan would be meeting with “with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders,” but there was no meeting scheduled with Castro.

Cuba Developments[2]

Cuba has an official delegation of people from its purported civil society, who already are in Peru to attend the alternative Peoples Summit that has been organized by Peru’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTP). Its leader said it would express “support for the Cuban Revolution and reaffirm the commitment to progressive and left governments of Latin America and the Caribbean currently being ‘sabotaged by imperialism.”’ On April 12 they have planned an anti-imperialist rally called “Trump out of Peru,” but with Trump not coming, they will have to have a different theme.

The official Cuba delegation of civil society has criticized “attempts by mercenaries and groups with links to terrorists to pass for supposed representatives of Cuban civil society.” The official delegation’s official statement expressed their desire “to contribute the experience of the Cuban Revolution that has, over almost 60 years, constructed a consensus in favor of our political, economic, and social system, forged through participative, socialist democracy, in which human beings constitutes the highest priority, and in which government is exercised by the people.”

These Cubans vandalized a Lima billboard that said in Spanish (here in English translation): “Cuba, enough of corruption, repression and impunity, stop human rights violations.”

=============================================

[1]  Davis, Trump Cancels Trip to Latin America, Citing Crisis in Syria, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Latin America Takes Trump’s Forgoing of Summit in Stride, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Acting Secretary Sullivan Travel to Lima, Peru, To Participate in the Summit of the Americas (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, On Cuba’s Restriction of Civil Society Participation in the Summit of the Americans (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 10, 2018.

[2] Gómez, People’s Summit kicks off in Lima, Granma (April 10, 2018); Statement from Cuban delegation to 8th Summit of the Americas parallel forums, Granma (April 9, 2018); ‘Shock troops’ of the Cuban regime in Lima vandalize the fences that denounced the repression, diario de Cuba (April 11, 2018); “CUBA in #Cumbre”, Cuba Debate.

 

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Sparring Over Cuban Human Rights

This September the U.N. Human Rights Council  in Geneva, Switzerland has encountered two items relating to Cuba: (a)  a Council reprimand of Cuba for its alleged punishing some of its citizens for cooperating with the U.N. on human rights and (b) Cuba’s human rights record.

The Council’s Reprimand

On September 20 the U.N. Human Rights Council reprimanded Cuba by putting it on a list of 29 states that have “punished people, through intimidation and reprisals, for cooperating with the UN on human rights.”  Such reprisals and intimidation include travel bans, asset-freezing, detention and torture.[1]

The  29 states on the list are Algeria, Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. (The nine in bold along with 38 other U.N. members are elected by the U.N. General Assembly to serve on the Council.)

The report said the  following about Cuba:

“On 18 October 2016, some mandate holders raised with the [Cuban] Government allegations of harassment and reprisals against human rights defenders and members of the Cubalex Legal Information Center for their cooperation with the United Nations in the field of human rights (see A/HRC/34/75, CUB 3/2016). The allegations were mainly in relation to advocates’ cooperation with the Human Rights Council, its special procedures and the universal periodic review mechanism, and took the form of stop and questioning at the airport and harassment by immigration agents. Additionally, on 23 September 2016, the offices of Cubalex Legal Information Center were raided (CUB 3/2016).” (Report, Section V.B.5.)[2]

The Council’s Assistant Secretary-General, Andrew Gilmour, said, “There is something grotesque and entirely contrary to the Charter and spirit of the United Nations, and particularly this Council, that people get punished, through intimidation and reprisals, for cooperating with the U.N. on human rights,”

Complaint about Cuba’s Human Rights

On September 19, under the Council’s Agenda Item 4: “Human Rights Situations Requiring Council Attention,” a U.S. diplomat expressed U.S.’ deep concern about the human rights situation in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Russia, Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo, (North Korea), China, DPRK (North Korea), Hong Kong, Belarus, Turkey, Venezuela and Cuba. (Emphasis added.)[3]

The diplomat’s statement about Cuba was very short: “We urge Cuba to release political prisoners and cease the harassment of civil society groups.” (Emphasis in original.)

The U.S. statement about Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally, was longer. It said, “We condemn the Maduro regime’s repressive actions to violate human rights including by suppressing dissent and peaceful protests in Venezuela.  We call on it to dissolve the illegitimate Constituent Assembly and restore Venezuela’s democratic institutions; hold free, fair, and credible elections as soon as possible; and provide humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan people.” (Emphasis in original.)

Cuba’s Response.

The same day (September 19), Cuba’s Permanent Representative to the Council, Ambassador Pedro L. Pedroso Cuesta, made the following longer response:[4]

  • “Is it politicization, double standards and selectivity, [all] bad practices, that will end up prevailing in the work of the Human Rights Council? Many of us hope not.”
  • “However, what we have heard in the debate of this theme, as well as in others last week, suggests that some promote that this is the way to go by this body.”
  • “Several countries continue to seek to stand as paradigms for the promotion and protection of human rights and use this and other agenda items to criticize other countries, while xenophobia, racism and intolerance increase in their own territories to a highly worrying level.”
  • “How can one think they are seriously concerned about human rights situations in countries of the South, when they promote wars and interventions against them, and then ignore or keep their hands off the suffering they caused with these actions to citizens whose rights are supposedly sought to improve?”
  • “Why do they oppose implementing the right to development and thereby improve the situation of millions of people living in poverty?”
  • “Cuba rejects manipulation for political ends and double standards in the treatment of human rights. The accusations against my country made by the [U.S.] representative, as well as unfounded, are inconsistent with the need to promote an objective, non-politicized and non-discriminatory debate on human rights issues.”
  • “I must also draw attention to the fact that such statement, centered on the alleged violations of others, aims at ignoring all human rights violations occurring in its territory, and the deep international concern caused by the language of exclusion that appears in that country.”
  • “We demand the cessation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba for more than 55 years. The measures of June 16 to reinvigorate this blockade are doomed to failure, and will not achieve their purpose of weakening the Revolution or bending the Cuban people.”
  • “We reiterate our solidarity with the Venezuelan Government and people and call for an end to all interference in the internal affairs of that country. We demand respect for the legitimate right of the Venezuelan people to continue building the social model that drives the Bolivarian Revolution.”
  • “Let us not let the failure of the defunct Commission on Human Rights repeat itself in the Council. It is our duty to work for cooperation and respectful dialogue to prevail, and politicization, selectivity and double standards disappear once and for all.”

As mentioned in a previous post, U.S. Vice President MIke Pence at the U.N. Security Council Meeting  on September 20 complained about Cuba and certain other countries being members of the U.N. Human Rights Council in light of what he said was its oppression and repression, a charge rejected by Cuba at that same meeting and by Cuba’s Foreign Minister at the General Assembly on September 22.   https://dwkcommentaries.com/2017/09/24/u-s-cuba-relations-discussed-in-u-n-proceedings/

Conclusion

These developments at the Council do not involve the potential imposition of sanctions of any kind on Cuba. Instead they are, I believe, verbal sparring on an international stage. (If I am missing some potential sanctions, please advise in a comment to this post.)

I have not seen any Cuban response to the Council’s reprimand. In any event, Cuba as soon as possible should end any harassment of Cubalex Legal Information Center and any of its officers and employees.

Any reforms of the Human Rights Council would seem to lie with the General Assembly, which I assume would only do so after significant study, analysis and voting, and I am unaware of any such study being proposed or conducted.

===========================================

[1] U.N. Human Rts. Council, Report of the Secretary-General: Cooperation with the United Nations, Its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (# A/HRC/36/31, Sept. 15, 2017)(Advance unedited version); U.N. Human Rts Council, Oral presentation by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights of the Report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (No. 36/31 Sept. 20, 2017); U.N. Human Rts Council, Report highlights rising reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN (Sept. 20, 2017); Reuters, Record Number of States Punishing Human Rights Activism: U.N., N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2017).

[2] See earlier post to dwkcommentaries: Cuban Police Search and Seize Property of Independent Legal Center (Oct. 7, 2016) (CUBALEX is the Center in question); More Cuban Arrests of Dissidents ( Dec. 2, 2016) (arrest of Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who is ‎affiliated with Cubalex).

[3] U.S. Mission Geneva, Statement by the United States of America (Sept. 19, 2017).

[4] Cuba rejects manipulation of human rights issue in Geneva, Granma (Sept. 21, 2017).

Another Cuban Migrant Problem in Central America 

Last November 8,000 Cuban migrants were stranded in Costa Rica on their journey to the U.S. after Nicaragua closed its borders with Costa Rica. This crisis eventually was resolved by a multilateral effort in that region to transport the migrants by plane and bus to the Mexico-U.S. border where they gained entry to the U.S. The last of such transfers occurred this March. Another part of the “solution” was Costa Rica’s closing its southern border to additional Cuban migrants coming from neighboring Panama.[1]

It recently has been revealed that the U.S. in January, pledged at least $1 million to help provide temporary shelter, potable water, food, sanitation and hygiene kits to the thousands of Cubans who had been stranded in Costa Rica while trying to make their way to the American border. The U.S. did so through the International Organization for Migration. The State Department said, “We expect this particular contribution to be a one-time contribution, and the final amount that will actually be provided to I.O.M. will depend upon needs on the ground, given that the number of vulnerable migrants in need of immediate humanitarian aid in Costa Rica fluctuates.”[2]

Now another similar crisis has erupted with over 3,500 Cuban migrants stranded in Panama and unable to enter Costa Rica. On April 13 an estimated 1,200 of the Cubans illegally entered Costa Rica after attacking one of its immigration offices at the border.

Costa Rica’s Response[3]

In its initial response, on April 11, Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Manuel González Sanz, issued a warning to the new wave of undocumented Cubans hoping to travel by land from Ecuador to the U.S. He said, “I want to make absolutely clear, to all the [Cuban] migrants who are coming and those already in Panama, that Costa Rica cannot and will not receive them.”

Moreover, The Foreign Minister stated Costa Rica ““will make use of all domestic and international measures at its disposal to address this situation, if we face something similar to what we faced from November to March.” His country, the Foreign Minister added, “already gave everything it could give, did more than it was required to do, and we definitely are not in a position to confront—not as part of a group and certainly not alone, as we did in the past—a situation similar to what the country experienced.”

González’s statement appropriately blamed U.S. laws, especially the Cuban Adjustment Act, granting special immigration benefits to Cubans arriving by land at the U.S. border. Therefore, the issue of Cuban migration “should be part of the bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States, but the reality is that the countries from Ecuador to Mexico, we are the ones caught in the middle and we are the ones suffering the consequences of laws that incite that migration.”

The next day, April 12, Costa Rica hosted a regional meeting to discuss this new migrant crisis. Other countries present were Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the U.S. Absent were Nicaragua and Cuba. Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister said, ““We are once again faced with a valuable opportunity to continue the dialogue, take advantage of good practices and experiences, reaffirm our commitments and, as in the meetings that preceded this, demonstrate that we can provide permanent concrete solutions,” He added, “ If there is not a coordinated, structural approach by all the countries involved, we will continue to have these events affecting countries individually. But individual action has proven to be too fragile for one country to take on a problem of such magnitude.”

After the April 13 illegal entry of Cuban migrants, the Costa Rican government issued another statement. It said the government:

  • “Reaffirms its commitment to respect for human rights and the protection of the dignity of persons irrespective of their nationality. The Government is obliged to maintain, in compliance with the law a climate of social peace for its citizens, to events that put their safety at risk.”
  • “Remembers that Costa Rica was an example to the world with humanitarian assistance of Cuban migrants, with the help of communities, civil society, municipalities and public institutions to more than 8,000 people who were stranded in our territory attended between November 2015 and March 2016.”
  • “Remembers that since December 18, 2015, Costa Rica ceased granting extraordinary transit visas to Cuban migrants, who were notified, transparently and straightforwardly, they cannot enter the country illegally.”
  • “Reports the various U.S. regulations that promote and privilege for entry into that country, incite illegal Cuban migration and create perverse incentives to migration and favorable conditions for trafficking in human beings.”
  • “Deplores that Costa Rica and Panama are trapped in a region that maintains closed northern borders and open southern borders.”
  • “Reports that today more than a thousand irregular migrants entered Costa Rica violently in an affront to the Costa Rican people, who attended in past months so timely and generously to Cuban migrants.”
  • “Declares that Costa Rica has no economic or logistical capacity to host new groups of migrants. The Costa Rican people have given more than our ability is to sustain these groups of people.”
  • “Announced that efforts are made with the government of Panama to return all migrants irregularly entering our territory.”
  • “Repudiates and rejects all acts of violence and anyone who enters that way will be stopped.”
  • “Reports that Costa Rica had an active participation in the meeting held yesterday in San Jose, Costa Rica with chancellors, vice chancellors, members of government, immigration authorities and officials from UNHCR, UNDP, IOM. This meeting did not produce the expected results.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, the President of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera, issued an order to implement this statement. In addition, the President stated that his government will write to President Obama to express his country’s “repudiation of . . . the effect of U.S. legislation which encourages [Cuban] migrants to continue a dangerous transit to that country using our territories.”

On April 15, the Government of Costa Rica issued another statement about the situation. This statement reiterated the previous points and declared that “Costa Rica and Panama are working to find joint and sustainable international solutions” to this problem.

Panama’s Response

On April 15, the Panama Foreign Ministry expressed “its concern about the current crisis of Cuban migrants in Latin America and their interest and willingness to find a sustainable and joint solution with the countries of the region.” It called on “the migrants living in our country to respect the peace and rules of both countries, especially in such a difficult situation.” At the same time, Panama has made significant efforts to safeguard the human rights of the migrants and has obtained Mexico’s agreement for nearly 1,300 Cuban migrants to fly from Panama to Mexico so they can continue their transit to the U.S. [4]

Cuba’s Response

Although invited to the Costa Rica meeting about the problem, Cuba did not attend, and no official Cuban statement on the matter has been found.

However, Raúl Castro as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba on April 16 delivered the Central Report to the Party’s Seventh Congress. He said that U.S. migration policies that encourage Cubans to defect were “a weapon against the revolution.”[5]

 U.S. Response

 To my amazement and regret, I have not found any response to this situation from the U.S. Government.

However, prior posts have argued that the U.S. should terminate its ”dry feet” policy that allows Cubans automatic entry into the country without a visa when arriving by land as well as the U.S. Cuban Medical Personnel Parole Policy that grants such personnel parole into the U.S. These policies are based upon the obsolete U.S. notion that every Cuban leaving the island is escaping persecution.[6]

These recent problems in Central America provide another reason for the U.S. to terminate these programs. Our friends in Central and South America are being subjected to intolerable burdens from Cuban migrants and our friends also see what they regard as unfair harsh U.S. immigration policies for their people seeking to go to the U.S. when compared with the Cubans.

===========================================

[1] This earlier crisis was discussed in these blog posts: Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved (Dec. 11, 2015); Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Central America (Dec. 30, 2015).

[2] Robles, U.S. Pays to Feed and Shelter Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2016;

[3] Meléndez, Costa Rica says its doors are closed to Cubans, Miami Herald (April 11, 2016); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Deputy Foreign Ministers Meeting in Costa Rica allowed constructive dialogue on the issue of migration flows (April 12, 2016); San Martin, Central American countries meet to resolve new Cuban migration wave, Miami Herald (April 12, 2106); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Declaration by the Government of Costa Rica to irregular entry of migrants (April 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Migrants Force Way Into Costa Rica From Panama, N.Y. Times (April 13, 2016); Dyer, Costa Rica pushed greater regional cooperation on Cuba, African migration, Tico Times (April 13, 2016); Fernandez, Cuban migrants force their way across the Panama-Costa Rica border,Miami Herald (April 14, 2016); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Statement of the Government of Costa Rica to the attempt of massive influx of Cuban migrants (April 15, 2016).

[4] Panama Foreign Ministry, Panama reiterates concern over problems of Cuban migrants (April 15, 2016).

[5] Reuters, Castro Hardens Rhetoric, Warns Cubans to Be Alert to U.S. Intentions, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2016).

[6] Prior posts about special U.S. immigration laws for Cubans: New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuba Medical Personnel (Nov. 23, 2014); U.S. and Cuba Fail To Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); President Obama Should Exercise His Legal Authority To End U.S. Admission of Cubans Arriving with “Dry Feet” (Dec. 4, 2015); New York Times Calls for End to Special U.S. Immigration Programs for Cubans (Dec. 21, 2015); U.S. Ending Its Cuban Medical Personnel Parole Program? (Jan. 8, 2016).

 

Cuban Migration Developments  

In recent weeks there have been significant developments regarding Cubans leaving, and returning to, the island and possible changes to U.S. laws regarding Cubans coming to the U.S.

Cuban Migrants in Central America

  1. “Test Plan” for Transit of Cuban Migrants to U.S.

As reported in prior posts, about 8,000 Cuban migrants have been stranded in Costa Rica on their journeys to the U.S., but last December Mexico and certain Central American governments agreed on a “test plan” to transport the migrants via air and bus from Costa Rica through El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to the U.S. border.[1]

On January 12 the initial group of 180 of these migrants started this journey, and on the next morning they had arrived in Ciudad Hidalgo on the Honduras-Mexico border, where they were granted 20-day transit visas. They were then put on their own to get to the Mexico-U.S. border. The first of them reached the Mexico-U.S. border at Laredo, Texas on the evening of January 14. And on January 18 a group of 30 arrived in Florida (Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Miami).[2]

In anticipation of the arrival of many of these Cubans in the Miami, Florida area, the mayors of Miami-Dade County in Florida have asked the federal government for funds to assist in welcoming many of those Cubans who are expected to come to their county.[3]

  1. Evaluation of “Test Plan[4]
Guatemala Meeting
Guatemala Meeting

On January 20 Guatemala hosted a meeting with representatives of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Belize and members of the International Organization for Migration to review the operation of the “test plan.” During the meeting an analysis of the operation was performed and each country presented their experience in the management of migration and visa issues as well as logistics and security. They concluded that the process was successful and that the passage of the Cuban migrants was made in a legal, orderly, safe and transparent manner. They also agreed to collaborate better and improve coordination needed for future transfers and to meet again on February 15 to review further progress.

  1. Future Transit of Cuban Migrants to the U.S.

The representatives at the January 20 meeting also concluded to resume the transit of Cubans in Costa Rica on February 4 with two weekly flights (February 9, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25) from Costa Rica to El Salvador followed by their busing to the Honduras-Mexico border and thence on their own to the Mexico-U.S. border. Priority will be given to households with pregnant women or children, with earlier dates of entry into Costa Rica, the numbers on their Costa Rica visas and the financial resources to pay for the transit. In addition, Costa Rican officials will visit Cubans remaining in shelters to renew their visas.

Each Cuban will pay $555 for the charter flight, the bus and food arranged by a travel agency. Once in Mexico, the Cubans will receive a 20-day transit visa to make it on their own to the U.S. border. U.S. and Mexican officials hope is to hatch a similar plan for the 3,000 Cubans stranded in Panama.

 Cuban Migrants By Sea

On May 2, 1995, in response to a large increase in Cubans who were attempting to make the dangerous crossing of the Caribbean Sea to get to Florida, the U.S. and Cuba entered into an agreement whereby the two countries “reaffirm their common interest in preventing unsafe departures from Cuba. Effective immediately, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea by the [U.S.] and attempting to enter the [U.S.] will be taken to Cuba.”[5]

Since then, the U.S. has done just that. Such an agreement and practice, it was believed, would discourage other Cubans from attempting such dangerous journeys. This then became known as the “wet feet” part of the U.S. disjunctive dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the statistics on such interdictions:[6]

Fiscal Year

(Oct.1-Sept. 30)

Number of

Interdictions

1995    525
1996    411
1997    421
1998    903
1999 1,619
2000 1,000
2001    777
2002 666
2003 1,555
2004 1,225
2005 2,712
2006 2,810
2007 2,868
2008 2,216
2009    799
2010    422
2011    985
2012 1,275
2013 1,357
2014 2,111
2015 2,924

So far in Fiscal 2016 (10/01/15-01/14/16), the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that 1,942 Cubans have been interdicted at sea or have attempted to land in the U.S. or have actually landed by sea. For the first half of January 2016 alone, a total of 396 Cuban migrants have been picked up in the waters between Florida and Cuba and returned to Cuba. The increases in Fiscal 2015 and so far in Fiscal 2016 are believed to have been caused by the December 2014 announcement of normalization between the two countries and Cubans’ concern that the U.S. might end its special immigration benefits for Cubans.[7]

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that more of the Cubans who have been interdicted and put on Coast Guard vessels are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or making self-inflicted wounds in attempts to be taken to U.S. shore. As a result the Guard has added security personnel on the vessels.

A Guard official recently said, “Immigration policies have not changed, and we urge people not to take to the ocean in unseaworthy vessels. It is illegal and extremely dangerous.”

Some Cubans Returning to Cuba[8]

Nick Miroff of the Washington Post reports there is a “growing number of Cubans who have opted to move back to the island in recent years as the Castro government eases its rigid immigration rules. The returnees are a smaller, quieter counter-current to the surge of Cubans leaving, and their arrival suggests a more dynamic future when their compatriots may come and go with greater ease, helping to rebuild Cuba with earnings from abroad.”

Indeed, Miroff says, these returnees or “repatriates are not coming back for socialism. They are coming back as capitalists. . . . [or as] trailblazing entrepreneurs. Prompted by President Raúl Castro’s limited opening to small business and his 2011 move allowing Cubans to buy and sell real estate, the repatriates are using money saved abroad to acquire property and open private restaurants, guesthouses, spas and retail shops.”

In 2012, Cuban immigration officials said they were processing about 1,000 repatriation applications each year. “The numbers appear to have increased since then, at least judging from anecdotal evidence and the proliferation of new small businesses in Havana run by returnees.”

“Many of the repatriates . . . are returning from Europe and Latin America. Cubans in the [U.S.] may be more reluctant to return to the island because of their relatively high incomes . . . [in the U.S. and because U.S.] economic sanctions also make it essentially illegal for any U.S. resident to go to Cuba and run a business. And the ability to buy property remains mostly restricted to Cubans who live on the island.”

Possible Changes in U.S. Immigration Laws Regarding Cubans

 As noted in previous posts, Cuba and now Central American countries have been vigorous opponents of the U.S. policy of allowing Cubans who arrive on land to come into the U.S. without visas, and the U.S. Administration repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing that policy.

In the meantime, the only congressional bill to end the special treatment for Cubans arriving by land at the U.S. border that was offered by Representative Paul Gosar (Rep., AZ)—Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans Act of 2015 (H.R.3818)– has gained little support beyond its nine cosponsors.[9]

Under another law, Cubans who have arrived in the U.S. by land are automatically eligible for federal public assistance under the Refugee Resettlement Program. On January 12, 2016, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, introduced a bill to end these automatic federal benefits.[10]

The bill, The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016 (S.2441), which has no cosponsors and which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, would terminate the automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program, while maintaining it for those that have been persecuted that are in need of resettlement assistance.

Rubio said, ““It is outrageous whenever the American people’s generosity is exploited. It is particularly outrageous when individuals who claim to be fleeing repression in Cuba are welcomed and allowed to ‎collect federal assistance based on their plight, only to return often to the very place they claimed to be fleeing. The weaknesses in our current law not only allow the flow of American tax dollars into the Castro regime’s coffers, it also undermines the legitimate cause of those Cubans who are truly fleeing repression and political persecution.”

Rubio’s rationale for this bill would also justify the U.S.’ ending its previously mentioned “dry feet” immigration policy.

Yet another special U.S. immigration program for Cubans—the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—is under consideration for cancellation by the Obama Administration.[11]

====================================================

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity to Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved (Dec. 11, 2015); Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015).

[2] Date set for the departure of first group of Cuban migrants from Costa Rica, Granma (Jan. 8, 2016); Robles, Cubans, Fearing Loss of Favored Status in U.S., Rush to Make an Arduous Journey, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2016); Reuters, First Group of Stranded Cuban Migrants Leave Costa Rica, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Cubans Begin Pilot Transfer From Costa Rica to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Brought by Air, Bus to Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Reuters, Mexico to Grant Transit Visas to Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2016); Perez & Cordoba, Stranded Cuban migrants brought by air, bus to Mexico, Wash. Post (Jan. 13, 2016); First group of Cuban migrants arrive in Mexico, Granma (Jan. 13, 2016); Assoc. Press, Stranded Cuban Migrants Make Plans to Cross Mexico, N.Y. Times (Jan. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, First of 8,000 Stranded Cuban Migrants Cross Into US, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2016); Barbero, The first Cubans stranded in Central America come to Miami, El Pais (Jan. 19, 2016).

[3] Barbero, Miami seeks help from Obama before the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Jan. 7, 2016),

[4]  Prensa Latina,Guatemala: Cuban Migrant Issue to be Tackled in regional Meeting, Esacambray (Jan. 20, 2016); Costa Rice Foreign Ministry, Next trip to Cuban migrants will be on February 4 (Jan. 20, 2016); Central American governments agreed to Cubans plan, Granma (Jan. 21, 2016).

[5] U.S.-Cuba Joint Statement on Migration, May 2, 1995, Dispatch Magazine.

[6] Focus on Cuba: Current Issues and Developments at 41 (2008); U.S. Coast Guard, Alien Migrant Interdiction (May 31, 2015)

[7] Clary, Number of Cubans intercepted at sea rises to highest level in two decades, SunSentinel (Nov. 4, 2015); Flechas, U.S. Coast Guard repatriates 169 Cuban migrants, Miami Herald (Jan. 14, 2016)  Rohrer, Post-Thaw, Cuban refugees surge in Florida, Orlando Sentinel (Jan. 19, 2016); Assoc. Press, Coast Guard: Migrants Fleeing Cuba Increasingly Violent, N.Y. Times (Jan. 20, 2016).

[8] Miroff, Amid a historic wave of emigration, some Cubans are returning home, Wash. Post (Jan. 1, 2015).

[9] Gosar, Press Release: Gosar Introduces Bill to End Wet Foot/Dry foot Policy & Stop Cuban Amnesty (Oct. 23, 2015)

[10] Rubio, Rubio Introduces Legislation To End Rampant Abuse of Cuban Refugee Resettlement Benefits (Jan. 12, 2016); Reuters, Republican Rubio Authors Senate Bill to Curb Cuban Immigration Benefits, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2016)  A companion bill (H.R.4247) was introduced in December 2015 in the House by Representative Carlos Curbelo, a fellow Cuban-American Republican from Florida. It has 12 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

[11] U.S. Ending Its Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program? (Jan. 8, 2016).

Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Central America

On December 28, 2015, five Central American countries and Mexico apparently resolved the problem created by the presence of 6,000 to 8,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. Many of the circumstances leading up to the presence of these migrants have been discussed in prior posts.[1] This post will review subsequent events that have made the problem more pressing for Costa Rica, the recent agreed-upon solution for this problem and issues presented for its full implementation.

Recent Developments

On December 18, 2015, Costa Rica suspended its participation in the political bodies of the Central American Integration System (SICA) because of the refusal of three members (Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua) to seek a regional solution to the transit of the migrants on their way to the U.S.[2]

On the same date, Costa Rica announced that it would no longer issue any more transit visas to Cubans seeking to enter the country and that it would deport to Cuba any Cubans in the country without such visas. [3]

On Sunday, December 27, Pope Francis led the Angelus Prayer with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square from the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Immediately after the prayer, Francis said, “[M]y thoughts at this time to the numerous Cuban migrants who find themselves in difficulties in Central America, many of whom are victims of human trafficking. I invite the countries of the region to renew generously all necessary efforts to find a timely solution to this humanitarian tragedy.”[4]

Agreed-Upon Solution[5]

On Monday, December 28, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala met in Guatemala with the International Organization for Migration and agreed to what they called a “pilot project” to resolve the Cuban migrants problem. Here the main points of that “pilot program:”

  • In the first week of January 2016, 250 of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in Costa Rica will be flown from San Jose, Costa Rica to San Salvador, El Salvador, where they will obtain the latter’s transit visas.
  • These migrants will then be transferred to buses to be taken from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico to the latter’s northern border with the U.S. while obtaining on the journey the latter Guatemala and Mexican transit visas.
  • At the U.S. border, the migrants will present their papers to U.S. immigration officials and presumably will be allowed to come into the U.S. under its dry feet/wet feel policy.

In addition, the five Central American countries and Mexico reaffirmed their commitment to combat human trafficking networks, to apply the law “without delay” in order to severely penalize this illegal activity that “unfortunately obliges countries in the region to return to their country of origin all persons entering their territory in an unauthorized manner, ”to prevent irregular migration and to firmly combat the crime of human trafficking, and primarily to protect the integrity of migrants and ensure respect for their fundamental rights,” They also agreed to convene a Regional Conference on Migration to address this issue in its entirety.

El Salvador’s announcement of this agreement stated that its participation in the solution was “in line with the call made by His Holiness Pope Francis, in his message of December 27.” This sentiment was echoed by Edgar Gutiérrez, a political analyst and former Guatemalan foreign minister, who said, “I believe that the pope’s comments were extremely important to accelerate the negotiation process.”

The U.S. and Cuba were not directly involved in the negotiations of this agreement, but according to the Wall Street Journal, both of these countries had pressed the Central American countries to reach a regional agreement on resolving the current situation before the end of this year. They did so after the U.S. reportedly rejected a Costa Rica request for the U.S. to airlift the migrants directly to the U.S. and after Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez stated that “Cuba requests that the solution for the thousands of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica is adequate, taking into account the welfare of these citizens, and that it is as swift as possible.”

Just before this agreement was reached, the New York Times published a letter from Costa Rica’s Ambassador stressing “the growing humanitarian and economic challenge that Costa Rica faces in caring for [the Cuban migrants].”[6]

Concerns About the Agreed-Upon Solution

 The current public information about the agreed-upon solution presents the following questions (and problems):

  • Will the ‘pilot project” be successful?
  • If it is successful, how many separate flights and bus trips will be necessary for all 6,000 to 8,000 migrants legally in Costa Rica? Based upon the 250 migrants involved in the “pilot project,” it will require a total of 32 such ventures for 8,000 migrants.
  • Over what period of time?
  • The “pilot project” and implementation for all of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants now in Costa Rica with transit visas will be expensive. At only $1,000 per person the total cost would be $6 million to $8 million. Who will pay for it? The countries directly involved clearly are not wealthy countries and presumably cannot afford it. As a result, they probably will ask the U.S. to do. So. Will the U.S. agree to do so?
  • Will the U.S. still have the dry feet/wet feet policy in effect when the “pilot program” and other migrants arrive at the U.S. border and, therefore, be permitted to come into the U.S.?

An overarching concern is whether this agreement will encourage additional Cubans to leave their country in an effort to get to the U.S. next year, especially after Cuban President Raul Castro’s December 29 speech to the country’s National Assembly warning Cubans that next year will be a difficult year for the Cuban economy.[7]

Carlos Raúl Morales, Guatemala’s foreign minister, said, “We are finishing the work of the smugglers, and of course it will incentivize the arrival of more illegals, but in solidarity we could not ignore the drama in Costa Rica.”  Similar thought were offered by Eric Olson, a Latin American analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Central American officials, however, stressed the deal was one-off due to a humanitarian situation and that Costa Rica has ended the transit-visa program that had opened the door to Cuban migrants. “This solution is absolutely an exception for those people who had already arrived legally,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told reporters after the agreement was reached on Monday. “Costa Rica has been very clear that we cannot establish a permanent mechanism” for Cuban immigrants. A Mexican diplomatic official concurred: “The agreement among all of us is that we had to solve this under the principle of shared responsibility and that the problem cannot repeat itself.”

Another result of the surge of Cuban migrants through Central America and of the agreement to resolve the current situation will be the enlistment of all of the Central American countries plus Mexico in Cuba’s effort to persuade the U.S. to terminate as soon as possible its “dry feet/wet feet” immigration policy for Cubans.

This U.S. immigration policy can also be seen as part of the U.S. “visa waiver” program, which currently is under legitimate review for future restrictions to attempt to prevent foreign terrorists from coming to the U.S.[8]

========================================

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail to Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved ((Dec. 11, 2015).

[2] Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Costa Rica suspends participation in political bodies of SICA refusal to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize agreed solution to the transit of Cuban migrants, (Dec. 18 2015).

[3]   Assoc.Press, Costa Rica Suspends Visas for Cubans as Regional Protest, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Moves to Deport 56 Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Dec. 26, 2015).

[4] The Words of the Pope at Angelus, 27/12/2015Pope Francis Angelus appeal for Cuban migrants, Va. News (Dec. 27, 2015).

[5] Assoc. Press, Costa Rica: Some Stranded Cubans to be Allowed to Continue North, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Countries in the region agree to give exceptional, safe passage and ordered Cuban migrants (Dec. 28, 2015); Guatemala Foreign Ministry, Press the Republic of Guatemala regarding the meeting held to address the immigration status of Cubans in Costa Rica (Dec. 28, 2015); El Salvador Foreign Ministry, El Salvador reiterates its readiness to cooperate with immigration crisis solution (Dec. 28, 2015); Central American agreement to transfer first group of Cuban migrants, Granma (Dec. 29, 2015); Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015).

[6] Macaya, Letter to the New York Times (Dec. 28, 2015).

[7] Iliff & Montes, Accord Over Cubans Stranded in Costa Rica Sparks Fear of Illegal Migration Wave, W.S.J. (Dec. 29, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Prepares Cuba for Tough Year Despite US Opening, N.Y. Times (Dec. 29, 2015); Raul Castro, We never accept conditionalities for lacerating the sovereignty and dignity of the homeland, Granma (Dec. 30, 2015).

[8] E.g., Hulse, Some revealing Moments as Congress Closes the Door on 2015, N.Y. Times (Dec. 21, 2015)

Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies

U.S. immigration laws and policies regarding Cubans have reemerged into the spotlight. After a brief look at those laws and policies, we will examine the new controversy arising over Cubans in Central America.

 U.S. Laws and Policies[1]

In 1966, the U.S. adopted the Cuban Adjustment Act that provided certain immigration benefits to Cubans. In 1995 this statute was amended to allow anyone who fled Cuba and entered the U.S. to pursue permanent residency a year later.

In addition, the U.S. and Cuba in 1994 and 1995 entered into migration agreements to promote “safe, legal and orderly migration” between the two countries. Under one of its provisions, the U.S. agreed to stop permitting Cubans intercepted at sea to come to the U.S. On the other hand, this agreement did not touch on the U.S. practice and policy of admitting Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. port of entry. This is the so-called U.S. “wet feet/dry feet” policy.

Since the U.S.-Cuba December 2014 rapprochement, the Cuban government repeatedly has complained about this Act and the wet feet/dry feet policy and has requested the U.S. to abolish them. The U.S., however, has consistently told the Cuban government that the U.S. was not planning to change its immigration policies regarding Cubans.[2]

Current Issues About Cubans in Central America[3]

As noted in an earlier post, since the December 2014 U.S.-Cuba rapprochement there have been increasing numbers of Cubans coming to the U.S. to take advantage of the provisions of the previously mentioned Act and policy before, they fear, those provisions will be rescinded. For example, more than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the Texas-Mexico border in the U.S. fiscal year ending September 30, 2015.

Many of the Cubans flew from Cuba to Ecuador, which allows them entry without visa; and from there they traveled by land through Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica with the objective of continuing through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. For all their current frustration over recent actions by Nicaragua, most of the Cubans’ anger is aimed at the Cuban government, which they accuse of cronyism, mismanaging the economy and limiting free speech. One of the Cubans, a teacher and a father of two, now in Costa Rica said that his grandmother had sold her house for $5,000 to pay for his passage to the U.S. and that he cannot return because his family is waiting for him to start sending money back.

This situation recently reached a new level with the precipitating events taking place in Central America. Over 1,500 Cubans on their migration have been in Costa Rica after initially being excluded from that country and then admitted after Costa Rica last Friday (November 13) said it would be issuing special seven-day transit visas to Cubans.

On Sunday (November 15), Nicaragua, a close ally of Cuba, closed its border with Costa Rica. This Nicaraguan action forced the Cubans to turn the Costa Rican side of a border station into a temporary shelter with makeshift beds, piles of luggage and improvised washing lines. Hundreds of others are being housed in buildings around a nearby small town.

Nicaraguan Military @ Border
Nicaraguan Military @ Its Border
Cubans @ Costa Rican Bprder
Cubans @ Costa Rican Bprder

 

 

 

 

 

Nicaragua simultaneously asserted that Costa Rica was creating a “humanitarian crisis” by allowing the Cubans into its country. Costa Rica was accused of “failing to comply with its obligations as a state” and of violating Nicaragua’s sovereignty.

The Nicaraguan complaint was confirmed the next day in a blistering press release in which it “deplores and condemns . . . the irresponsible, disrespectful attitude [towards] all international conventions and agreements on human mobility [by] Government of Costa Rica.” The latter allegedly had violated Nicaragua’s “national territory, our sovereignty” and had made “the unprecedented claim . . . [to the] right to determine the entry into our territory of people in a situation of illegality and violent behavior intended to” occur in Nicaragua. The statement also reported that on Tuesday (November 17), Nicaragua would bring this alleged “serious crisis” to the Security Commission of the Central American Integration System, SICA. Nicaragua also said it would present its complaint to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Theses accusations immediately were rejected by Costa Rica, and on Tuesday (November 17) Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez proposed the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” for Cubans transiting Central America. “Countries have to prevent migrants falling into the hands of networks and coyotes, because remember that the migrants’ purpose is to arrive in the [U.S.] and we will try to do everything possible [for them] to achieve” that goal. The Foreign Minister also said that “Costa Rica is neither the origin nor the destination country for the Cubans, and the government has undertaken all necessary efforts to deal with this situation responsibly under the strict guidance of international treaties” and that he had not ruled out taking the migrant problem before the Organization of American States (OAS) and other international forums. In the meantime Costa Rica was trying to organize a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Central American countries and Mexico.

 SICA’s Consideration of the Situation[4]

As indicated above, Nicaragua’s complaint was considered on Tuesday by a subcommittee of the Security Commission of the Central American Integration System, SICA, in preparation for the Thursday meeting of the Commission.[5]

At that later meeting, Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of attempting to avoid discussion of the issue at SICA and to “systematically block” Nicaragua’s request. It also was alleged that Costa Rica never warned Nicaragua that more than 1,900 Cubans were about to show up at the border. The Nicaragua Foreign Ministry’ s press release regarding this meeting again was blistering in its complaint against Costa Rica. It said the following:

  • Nicaragua denounced “the systematic blocking [by] . . . Costa Rica” of SICA’s considering the “irregular and illegal migration of Cubans.”
  • Nicaragua also denounced “the arrogance of Costa Rica . . . ignoring international law and agreements . . . has violated our territory, threatened and blocked Trade and International Freight, and is concentrating more Cuban citizens on our southern border, to pressure and blackmail our government.”
  • Costa Rica’s suggested humanitarian corridor would subject “Americans, including children, to “hazards, even dying, in an effort to reach the [U.S.]”
  • Nicaragua proposed that SICA demand that the U.S. provide reciprocity to Central American citizens seeking entry to the U.S. in the same manner that it treats Cuban migrants.

Costa Rica denied these allegations, and the subcommittee agreed on the need to see this issue from a holistic perspective and human rights, not as a security issue. Afterwards, Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister said, “The countries [of SICA] have reacted in a positive and supportive way. They have understood that the humanitarian aspect is at stake and should be tackled, comprehensively, by the entire region.”

On Monday (November 23) the SICA Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs along with others, by invitation, from Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico will meet to find a comprehensive solution to the situation.

Cuba’s Response to Central American Situation[6]

On Tuesday (November 17), the Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement about the situation in Central America that gave greater prominence to its objection to the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act and the dry feet/wet feet policy. Here are the main points of the Cuba statement:

  • These Cubans in Central America “have become victims of traffickers and criminal gangs which unscrupulously profit from their control of the passage of persons through South America, Central America and Mexico.”
  • “Cuban authorities have maintained ongoing contact with the governments of the countries involved, with the goal of finding a rapid, appropriate solution, which would take into consideration the wellbeing of the Cuban citizens.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations would like to emphasize that these citizens are victims of the politicization of the migration issue on the part of the United States government, the Cuban-American Adjustment Act, in particular, and the application of the so-called “wet foot-dry foot” policy, which gives Cubans differentiated treatment – the only one of its kind in the world – which admits them immediately and automatically, regardless of the route or means used, even if they arrive in an illegal manner to U.S. territory.”
  • “This policy encourages irregular immigration from Cuba to the United States, and constitutes a violation of the letter and spirit of Migratory Accords currently in effect, in which both countries assumed the responsibility to guarantee legal, safe, orderly emigration.”
  • The statement went on to object to another U.S. immigration policy affecting Cuba: “the U.S. government’s continued maintenance of the so-called Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program . . . to encourage Cuban doctors and other medical personnel to abandon their missions in third countries, and emigrate to the United States. This is a reprehensible practice, meant to damage Cuban cooperation programs, and deny Cuba and many countries the vital human resources they need.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations reiterates once again that the ‘wet foot-dry foot’ policy and the ‘Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program’ are inconsistent with the current bilateral context, impede to the normalization of migratory relations between Cuba and the United States, and create problems for other countries.”
  • “The Ministry of Foreign Relations confirms that Cuban citizens who have left the country legally, and abide by current Cuban migratory law, have the right to return to Cuba, if they so desire.”

Conclusion

I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land at U.S. ports of entry and the risk that they will be eliminated is 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.[7] Although I am a retired attorney, 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 to do this. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

I also agree that the U.S. as soon as possible should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts.[8] 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 to do this. (I also would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

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.

Now we will see what happens next Monday at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the SICA members and their guests.

=======================================================

[1] U.S. Pub. L. 89-732, 80 Stat. 1161 (Nov. 7, 1966); U.S. Pub. L. 94-571, 90 Stat. 2703 (Oct. 20, 1976) U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, Green Card for a Cuban Native or CitizenThe Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia; Moffett, U.S. Allows Cuban Migrants Different Treatment aboutnews; Wet feet/dry feet policy, Wikipedia; Johnson, Cuban Migration: Averting a Crisis, Imm. Policy Center (June 2003).

[2] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[3] Salinas, Nicaragua deports hundreds of Cuban migrants back to Costa Rica, El Pais (Nov. 17, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Regional government seeks to arrange an appointment to find about our a migration of Cubans (Nov. 17, 2015) (Ministry’s English translation); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Government Rejects Accusations of Costa Rica Nicaragua Case for Cuban Migrants (Nov. 16, 2015); Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, Nota de Prensa (NP 060-2015) (Nov. 16, 2015); Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica by Cuban migrants; convene meeting of SICA and Cuba blames US (Nov. 18, 2015); Murillo, Costa Rica struggling to deal with Cuban migrant crisis, El Pais (Nov. 19, 2015); Reuters, Stranded at Nicaragua Border, Cuban Migrants’ American Dream in Peril, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2015).

[4] Nicaragua Foreign Ministry Press Release, COMUNICADO “NICARAGUA DENUNCIA BLOQUEO SISTEMÁTICO DE COSTA RICA EN EL SICA A DISCUSIÓN SOBRE EMIGRACIÓN IRREGULAR EN LA REGIÓN CENTROAMERICANA, (NP-063-2015) (Nov. 19, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Says Regional Bloc to Consider Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Nov. 19, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, SICA supports Costa Rica proposal for Council of Foreign Ministers of the region to find solution to migration crisis, (Nov. 19, 2015).

[5] SICA is the “institutional framework for Central American Regional Integration” that was created in 1991. Its current members are Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Its headquarters is in El Salvador.

[6] Ministry of Foreign Relations Statement on Migratory Policy, Granma (Nov. 18, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Blames U.S. for Migrant Crisis in Central America, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba Blames US for Instigating Surge of Migrants From Island, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2015).

[7] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[8] E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014). Another blog post has rejected the U.S. claim that the service of Cuban medical personnel on that country’s foreign medical missions constitutes illegal forced labor.