President Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations

On July 14, Raúl Castro Ruz, Army General, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, addressed a session of Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power).[1]

A previous post discussed his remarks about Cuba’s private sector. He also made the following comments about the history of Cuba-U.S. relations.[2]

Present Castro’s Comments

President Trump’s Policies Regarding Cuba

“This past June 16, the President of the [U.S.], Donald Trump, announced his administration’s policy toward Cuba, nothing novel for sure, since he retook a discourse and elements from the confrontational past, which showed their absolute failure for over 55 years.”

“It is evident that the U.S. President has not been well informed on the history of Cuba and its relations with the [U.S.], or on the patriotism and dignity of the Cuban people.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 1789-2014

“History cannot be forgotten, as they have at times suggested we do. For more than 200 years, the ties between Cuba and the [U.S.] have been marked, on the one hand, by the pretensions of the northern neighbor to dominate our country, and on the other, by the determination of Cubans to be free, independent, and sovereign.”

“Throughout the entire 19th century, invoking the doctrines and policies of Manifest Destiny, of Monroe, and the ‘ripe fruit,’ different U.S. administrations tried to take possession of Cuba, and despite the heroic struggle of the mambises,[3] they did so in 1898, with a deceitful intervention at the end of the war which for 30 years Cubans had waged for their independence, and which the U.S. troops entered as allies and then became occupiers. Negotiating with Spain behind Cuba’s back, they militarily occupied the country for four years, demobilizing the Liberation Army, dissolving the Revolutionary Cuban Party – organized, founded, and led by Martí – and imposed an appendix to the Constitution of the nascent republic, the Platt Amendment, which gave them the right to intervene in our internal affairs and establish, among others, the naval base in Guantánamo, which still today usurps part of the national territory, the return of which we will continue to demand.”

“Cuba’s neocolonial condition, which allowed the [U.S.] to exercise total control over the economic and political life of the island, frustrated, but did not annihilate, the Cuban people’s longing for freedom and independence. Exactly 60 years later, January 1, 1959, with the triumph of the Revolution led by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, we became definitively free and independent.”

“From that moment on, the strategic goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been to overthrow the Revolution. To do so, over more than five decades, they resorted to dissimilar methods: economic war, breaking diplomatic relations, armed invasion, attempts to assassinate our principal leaders, sabotage, a naval blockade, the creation and support of armed bands, state terrorism, internal subversion, the economic, commercial, financial blockade, and international isolation.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 2014-2017

“Ten administrations held office until President Barack Obama, in his statement of December 17, 2014, without renouncing the strategic goal, had the good sense to recognize that isolation had not worked, and that it was time for a new focus toward Cuba.”

“No one could deny that the [U.S.], in its attempts to isolate Cuba, in the end found itself profoundly isolated. The policy of hostility and blockade toward our country had become a serious obstacle to relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, and was rejected almost unanimously by the international community. Within U.S. society, growing majority opposition to this policy had developed, including among a good portion of the Cuban émigré community.”

“In the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in 2012, Ecuador refused to participate if Cuba was not permitted to attend, and all Latin American and Caribbean countries expressed their rejection of the blockade and Cuba’s exclusion from these events. Many countries warned that another meeting would not take place without Cuba. As such, we arrived in April 2015 – three years later – to the Seventh Summit in Panama, invited for the very first time.”

“Over the last two years, and working on the basis of respect and equality, diplomatic relations have been reestablished and progress made toward resolving pending bilateral matters, as well as cooperation on issues of mutual interest and benefit; limited modifications were made to the implementation of some aspects of the blockade. The two countries established the bases from which to work toward building a new type of relationship, demonstrating that civil coexistence is possible despite profound differences.”

“At the end of President Obama’s term in office, the blockade, the Naval Base in Guantánamo, and the regime change policy, remained in place.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 2017–

“The announcements made by the current U.S. President, last June 16, represent a step back in bilateral relations. This is the opinion of many people and organizations in the [U.S.] and around the world, who have overwhelmingly expressed their outright rejection of the announced changes. This sentiment was also expressed by our youth and student organizations, Cuban women, workers, campesinos, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, intellectuals, and religious groups, on behalf of the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.”

“The U.S. government has decided to tighten the blockade by imposing new obstacles on its businesspeople to trade and invest in Cuba, and additional restrictions on its citizens to travel to the country – justifying these measures with out-dated rhetoric regarding the Cuban people’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights and democracy.”

“President Trump’s decision disregards the support of broad sectors of U.S. society, including the majority of Cuban émigrés, for lifting of the blockade and normalization of relations, and only satisfies the interests of an increasingly isolated, minority group of Cuban origin in South Florida, who insist on harming Cuba and its people for having chosen to defend, at any cost, their right to be free, independent, and sovereign.”

“Today, we reiterate the Revolutionary Government’s condemnation of measures to tighten the blockade, and reaffirm that any attempt to destroy the Revolution, whether through coercion and pressure, or the use of subtle methods, will fail.”

“We likewise reject manipulation of the issue of human rights against Cuba, which has many reasons to be proud of its achievements, and does not need to receive lessons from the [U.S.] or anyone else.”

“I wish to repeat, as I did so in the CELAC Summit held in the Dominican Republic in January of this year, that Cuba is willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues with the [U.S.], on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest with the U.S. government.”

“Cuba and the [U.S.] can cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence. [N]or will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions of any kind, just as we have never done throughout the history of the Revolution.”

“Despite what the government of the [U.S.] does, or does not decide to do, we will continue advancing along the path sovereignly chosen by our people.”

Conclusion

Castro’s review of the history of these relations was succinct, fact-based, fair and necessary for the two countries’ moving forward in a positive direction.

Moreover, the two countries, as Castro said, should be “willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues . . . on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of [each] country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest.” The two countries should be able to “cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples.”

These principles should govern U.S. relations with Cuba and every other country in the world.

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[1] Castro Ruz, We will continue to advance along the path freely chosen by our people, Granma (July 17, 2017).

[2] Various aspects of this history have been discussed in the posts identified in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

[3]Mambises” refers to the guerrilla Cuban independence soldiers who fought against Spain in the Ten Years’ War (1868–78) and Cuban War of Independence (1895–98).

 

U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans

On January 12, the U.S. announced that it is ending, effectively immediately, the “dry foot” immigration policy for Cubans and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy. Below we will examine these cancelled policies, the U.S. announcement of the policy changes, Cuba’s announcement of the U.S. policy changes and reactions to the changes.

The Cancelled U.S. Policies[1]

The “dry feet” policy has allowed any Cuban who arrived on land (with “dry feet”) at a U.S. point of entry to come into the U.S. and, absent negative factors, qualify for U.S. permanent residency status after one year. This policy originated soon after the early years of the Cuban Revolution before the U.S. in 1967 had ratified the international treaty on refugees and before it had adopted in 1980 a statute implementing that treaty (the Refugee Act of 1980) and when the U.S. assumed that all Cubans arriving in the U.S. were fleeing persecution.

This policy originally included Cubans who were intercepted on the water by the U.S. Coast Guard. However, in response to the Cuban Government’s legitimate concerns about the personal safety of Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. on unsafe boats, the U.S. (Bill Clinton Administration) and Cuba on September 9, 1994, reached an agreement whereby the U.S. would return to Cuba its nationals who were intercepted at sea, i.e., who had “wet feet.”

The U.S. Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy, which was adopted on August 11, 2006, allowed “Cuban medical personnel conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the U.S.” It was available to “health-care providers who are sent by the [Cuban government] to work or study in third countries and who . . . are often denied exit permission by the Cuban Government to come to the [U.S.] when they qualify under other established legal channels to migrate from Cuba. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, lab technicians and sports trainers are examples of groups that may qualify for the . . . program.”

U.S. Announcement of the Change[2]

 On January 12 President Obama announced that the U.S. “is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era.  Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the [U.S.] illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”

The President also said the U.S. is “ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The [U.S.] and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.”[3]

This termination follows months of negotiations with the Cuban government over the latter’s agreeing to accept returning Cubans.

Nearly simultaneously with the President, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), issued a statement: “To the extent permitted by the current laws of our two countries, the [U.S.] will now treat Cuban migrants in a manner consistent with how it treats others; unauthorized migrants can expect to be removed unless they qualify for humanitarian relief under our laws.”  The Department also released a Fact Sheet and the Joint Statement of the two governments about the change. Johnson pointed out that Cuba will take back citizens as long as less than four years have passed between the time the migrant left Cuba and the start of the U.S. deportation proceedings.

These changes do not affect U.S. law regarding “refugees” fleeing persecution in their home countries. Thus, if a Cuban fears “persecution” upon returning to the island, then the individual may apply for asylum in the U.S. as a “refugee” under international and U.S. law if the individual can establish that he or she has a “well-founded fear” of “persecution” in Cuba “due to” his or her “political opinion, race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group.” (Statutory words are in quotes.) They may do so in the U.S. or at an U.S. embassy or consulate in another country.[4]

Cuban Announcement of the Change[5]

Welcoming this change, the Cuban Government stated, “After nearly a year of negotiation and encouraged by the restoration of diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015, based on mutual respect and political will to strengthen these links and establish new understandings on various issues of common interest, [the two] governments were able to concretize this commitment that should contribute to the normalization of migration relations. . . .”

The U.S. “wet foot-dry foot” policy gave Cubans “preferential and unique treatment not received by citizens of other countries, so it was also an incitement to illegal departures. Its implementation and that of other policies led to migratory crises, kidnapping of ships and aircraft and the commission of crimes, such as trafficking in migrants, trafficking in persons, immigration fraud and the use of violence with a destabilizing extraterritorial impact on other countries of the region [that were] used [for] transit to arrive at American territory.”

This change will meant that the U.S., “consistent with its laws and international norms, shall return to the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of Cuba, consistent with its Laws and international norms, will receive all Cuban citizens, who . . . are detected by the competent authorities of the [U.S.] when they tried to enter or stay irregularly in that country, violating its laws.”

The U.S. “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals, which was part of the arsenal to deprive the country of doctors, nurses and other professionals of the sector, . . . and an attack against Cuba’s humanitarian and solidarity medical missions in Third World countries that need it so much. This policy prompted Cuban health personnel working in third countries to abandon their missions and emigrate to the [U.S.], becoming a reprehensible practice that damaged Cuba’s international medical cooperation programs.”

It “will also be necessary for the U.S. Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.”

Unaffected are prior agreements “to prevent illegal departures by sea and to return to Cuba all persons who are intercepted in those acts or who enter the Guantánamo Naval Base. The Government of the United States will continue to guarantee regular migration from Cuba with a minimum of 20,000 people per year.”

“Both governments agreed to apply their migration laws in a non-selective manner and in accordance with their international obligations. They also undertook to prevent risky exits that endanger human life, to prevent irregular migration and to combat violence associated with such manifestations, such as trafficking and trafficking in persons.” In addition, “the parties will promote effective bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute those involved in trafficking in persons, as well as crimes associated with migratory movements, which endanger their national security, including the hijacking of aircraft and vessels.”

“In keeping with its international obligations and its legislation, the Government of the Republic of Cuba ratifies its commitment to guarantee regular, safe and orderly migration, as well as to fully comply with this new agreement for which the corresponding measures have been taken internally. It will continue to guarantee the right to travel and emigrate to Cuban citizens and to return to the country, in accordance with the requirements of immigration law.”

The Cuban Government also published the Joint Statement of the two governments as had DHS in the U.S.

At a press conference on January 12 Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry official responsible for relations with the U.S., said that the joint “agreement recognizes the need to facilitate regular migration for the benefit of both countries, to prevent irregular migration and to prevent risky exits that endanger human life and to combat violence associated with this phenomenon and related offenses, such as trafficking in persons and trafficking in persons.”

Vidal was joined by Gustavo Machin, the Deputy Director of the United States Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, who summarized the joint agreement. He added that “Cuba will accept that persons who were included in the list of 2,746 Cuban citizens who migrated by the port of Mariel in 1980 [“the Mariel boat lift”] and were considered ineligible to remain in the [U.S.], . . and [those] who cannot now be returned will be replaced by other persons and returned to Cuba. Cuba will also consider receiving other Cuban citizens who are currently in the [U.S.], who violated [U.S.] laws and whom U.S. authorities have determined cannot remain in its territory.”

 Reactions to the Change[6] 

As to be expected, U.S. congressional response was mixed.

Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem, VT) said, “This is a welcome step in reforming an illogical and discriminatory policy that contrasted starkly with the treatment of deserving refugees from other countries.” Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) stated that eliminating the policy “is in our national interest. It is a win for taxpayers, border security, and our allies in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a move that brings our Cuba policy into the modern era while allowing the United States to continue its generous approach to those individuals and refugees with a legitimate claim for asylum.”

Representative Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) and co-author of a bill to end the embargo (H.R.-442), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2017/01/12/representatives-emmer-and-castor-introduce-bill-to-end-embargo-of-cuba/ said, ““The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy should be followed by congressional action to lift the outdated economic embargo and improve economic conditions for everyday Cubans. . . . I have witnessed how the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy created an uneven playing field for immigrants from other Caribbean nations who are also seeking the opportunity to pursue the American dream.    I have also seen Cubans who try to come here for short term visits to see family members negatively affected by ‘wet foot/dry foot.’  The change in policy today will help ensure that we can have safer and more orderly migration with all of our Caribbean neighbors.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) said that the incoming Trump administration should reverse the part of the executive order ending the medical parole system and that there should be assurances that Cubans “who arrive here to escape political persecution are not summarily returned to the regime [but] . . . are given a fair opportunity to apply for and receive political asylum.”

Representative Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who emigrated from Cuba as a child, decried the elimination of the medical parole programs, calling it a “foolhardy concession to a regime that sends its doctors to foreign nations in a modern-day indentured servitude.”

According the Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), “Today’s announcement will only serve to tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people.” He added, “The Obama administration seeks to pursue engagement with the Castro regime at the cost of ignoring the present state of torture and oppression, and its systematic curtailment of freedom.”

A positive view of the change was taken by Peter Kornbluh, a co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba,” which recounts the secret negotiations between the United States and Cuban governments that forged the policy of engagement. He said, “The exceptionalism of the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy toward Cuba is a relic of the Cold War, and this decision by the administration is really its final effort to normalize an area of interaction between Cuba and the United States, migration, that is clearly in need of normalization.”

James Williams, the President of Engage Cuba, the leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, said these changes are “a logical, responsible, and important step towards further normalizing relations with Cuba. The ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy has been an enduring problem that decades of hostility and isolation failed to solve. This change, which has long had strong bipartisan support, would not have been possible without the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Phil Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center, said that the number of Cubans entering the United States is actually much higher because tens of thousands more overstay their visitor visas and still others migrate legally. “This is a favor to Trump because it’s a tough measure to take, but it’s the right measure to take,” Mr. Peters said. “These are economic migrants coming here that, unlike any other nationality, get a big package of government benefits without any justification.”

Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies of New York praised the specific change, while questioning the broader rules covering asylum. “The good news is that it ensures equal treatment between Cubans and asylum-seekers from other nations,” he said. “The bad news is that our asylum system is broken and does not afford adequate due process and protection to those who need it.”

Support for this change of policy also was voiced by Pedro Freyre, the chair of the international practice group of the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Akerman LLP. He observed, “This partially closes Cuba’s escape valve and will put pressure on Cubans to move forward more rapidly with reforms.” For years, he said, the last resort for Cubans frustrated with the lack of opportunity on the island has been to hire a “lanchero,” or people smuggler and attempt to reach the U.S. “Now they will have to look inward to see what they can do to fix Cuba.” The same opinion was offered by Jorge Mas, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, who welcomed the change and said it would pressure the Cuban government to improve conditions on the island.

Average Cubans and opponents of the island’s communist leaders said they expected pressure for reform to increase with the elimination of a mechanism that siphoned off the island’s most dissatisfied citizens and turned them into sources of remittances supporting relatives who remained on the island. This point was emphasized by Benjamin Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor and a principal negotiator of the rapprochement, saying, “It’s important that Cuba continue to have a young, dynamic population that are clearly serving as agents of change.”

Last year thousands of Cubans who were seeking to reach the U.S. border with Mexico and to come into the U.S. with “dry feet” created major logistical and financial problems for Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama and to a lesser extent Colombia and Ecuador. This naturally upset the governments of those countries, especially when their citizens were not eligible for these U.S. immigration policies.

Therefore, these governments welcome the U.S. terminating the policies. El Salvador’s foreign ministry said, “There cannot be migrants of different categories.” Honduras said it would wait to see if the flow of Cubans actually declined.

Cubans who had left their homeland and were now trying to reach U.S. soil when the decision was announced lamented the policy change. “It has fallen on us like a bucket of water because were never thought that at this point and with so little time before Obama leaves office that his government would make this horrible decision,” said Eugenia Diaz Hernandez, a 55-year-old Cuban in Panama whose voyage with her daughter and granddaughter had taken her through Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. “We are adrift.” Another Cuban, Jose Enrique Manreza, who ran a soda warehouse in Havana, is now stranded in Mexico, after selling his house and belongings in Cuba to raise $10,000 for his journey to reach the U.S. “Imagine how I feel, after I spent six days and six nights running through rivers and jungles in the humidity.”

Conclusion

This policy change, in my opinion, was long overdue. I pray and hope that the incoming Trump Administration will not reverse this change.

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[1] U.S. Dep’t of State, Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (Jan. 26, 2009)  See generally posts listed in the “Cuba Migration to U.S.” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: Cuba.

[2] White House, Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes (Jan. 12, 2017); Dep’t Homeland Security, Statement by Secretary Johnson on the Continued Normalization of Our Migration Relationship with Cuba (Jan. 12, 2017); Dep’t Homeland Security, Fact Sheet: Changes to Parole and Expedited Removal Policies Affecting Cuban Nationals (Jan. 12, 2017); Dep’t Homeland Security, Joint Statement [of U.S. and Cuba regarding changes in U.S. immigration policies] (Jan. 12, 2017); Reuters, Obama Administration Ends Special Immigration Policy for Cubans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017); Assoc. Press, Obama Ends Visa-Free Path for Cubans Who Make It to U.S. Soil, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017); Caldwell & Pace (AP), Obama making change to Cuban immigration policy, Wash. Post (Jan. 12, 2017); DeYoung, Obama ending ‘wet-foot, dry foot’ policy allowing Cubans reaching U.S. soil to stay and receive residency, Wash. Post (Jan. 12, 2017); Davis & Robles, Obama Ends Exemption for Cubans Who Arrive Without Visas, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2017); Lee, Schwartz & Córdoba, U.S. Ends ‘No-Visa’ Era for Cuban Emigrés, W.S. J. (Jan. 12, 2017).

[3] See posts listed in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[4] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. I (A); 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(42)See generally the following dwkcommentaries.com blog posts: Refugee and Asylum Law: Modern Era (July 9, 2011); Refugee and Asylum Law: Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (July 10, 2011); Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011);Teaching the International Human Rights Course (July 1, 2011).

[5] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of Revolutionary Government (Jan. 12, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Joint Declaration Cuba-United States (Jan. 12, 2017); Cuba ratifies its commitment to regular, safe and orderly migration, Granma (Jan. 12, 2017); Assoc. Press, Havana Hails End to Special US Immigration Policy for Cubans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017).

[6] Flake Statement on Elimination of Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy (Jan. 12, 2017); Menendez Statement on Latest Cuba Policy Changes (Jan. 12, 2017); Rubio Comments on Obama Administration Changes to Cuba Policy (Jan. 12, 2017);Castor, Statement on Ending “Wet Foot/DryFoot” (Jan. 12, 2017); Engage Cuba Statement on Administration ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy Announcement (Jan. 12, 2017);Ben Rhodes: ‘There is bipartisan support’ for Congress to repeal the Adjustment Act, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 13, 2017); Wheaton, Obama’s shift on Cuban immigrants could put Trump in a bind, Politico (Jan. 12, 2017); Reuters, Cubans on Road to U.S. Distraught About Newly Closed Border, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2017).

 

 

 

U.S. Continues Its Absurd Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans  

This blog has frequently criticized the U.S. special immigration benefits for Cubans under the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy.[1]

On August 29 nine Latin American countries joined together to call for the U.S. to end these policies. Their joint letter was signed by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru, all of which recently have been affected by large numbers of Cubans transiting through their countries to reach the U.S.-Mexico border and gain admittance to the U.S. under these policies.[2]

The letter expressed their “deep concern” that U.S. policy toward Cuban migrants is creating a humanitarian crisis and encouraging “a disorderly, irregular and unsafe flow of Cubans. Cuban citizens risk their lives, on a daily basis, seeking to reach the United States. These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.”

The letter also requested a meeting on these issues with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The letter was announced on August 29 by Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long, saying, “The fact that nine foreign ministers have signed this letter shows the strength of the sentiment in Latin America that United States policy is creating a migration crisis in our region. It’s time for the U.S. to change its outdated immigration policies toward Cubans, because they are undermining regular and safe migration in our continent.” Long added that the decades-old policy also is a form of “terrible discrimination,” given that scores of migrants from other Latin American countries are forced to “hide and often live decades with the threat of deportation” if they are undocumented, while Cubans are given residence if they step foot on U.S. territory. This injustice must stop for the wellbeing of all.”

The prior week the Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told the McClatchy news organization that the issue has cost his country millions of dollars it doesn’t have and has raised complaints from Costa Ricans about spending resources on stranded foreigners when they were needed by the nation’s own citizens. “The difficulties between the U.S. and Cuba has a direct consequence on other countries in our region that serve as transit. And we are, in a way, paying the consequences of that bilateral relationship.”

Cuban migration indeed is a serious problem for these Latin American countries and for Cuba. More than 46,500 Cubans were admitted to the U.S. without visas during the first 10 months of the 2016 fiscal year compared with more than 43,000 in 2015 and just over 24,000 in 2014.

The continuation of this combined policy has been criticized by the New York Times editorial board. This “anachronistic policy is irrational, strains relations with America’s neighbors and endangers lives. It also has the effect of easing pressure on Cuba’s authoritarian government to make economic and political reforms by offering an incentive to those who are most dissatisfied with the status quo to take a dangerous way out.”[3]

A similar criticism was offered by a prominent writer on Latin American affairs, Andrés Oppenheimer. He said, “It’s time to revise the U.S. government’s special status for Cuban refugees. But it should be done as part of a new commitment by all countries in the region to grant asylum to Cuba’s political refugees, and to press Cuba to abide by international human rights laws. . . . It’s time for all sides to end Cuba policies that are relics of the Cold War. Washington should change its much-abused laws giving special status to all Cuban refugees, and Latin American countries should end their shameful silence on Cuba’s repressive dictatorship, which is at the root of Cuba’s main problems. These are new times that require new policies by all countries.”[4]

Nevertheless, on August 30, a U.S. State Department spokesman acknowledged receipt of the letter from nine Latin American countries and merely said, “the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and wet foot/dry foot remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.” He also added these comments: “we are concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico. Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and traffickers in attempts to reach the United States. We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely. And we’re going to continue to, obviously, engage governments in the region on this issue going forward.”[5]

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[1] See posts listed in “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[2] Ordońez, Nine Latin nations band together to plead with U.S. over Cuba, InCubaToday (Aug. 29. 2016); Telesur, Nine Latin American Countries Slam US for creating migrant crisis, Global Research (Aug. 29, 2016); Assoc. Press, LatAm Diplomats Urge US to Change Policy on Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Aug. 29, 2016).

[3] Editorial, Neighbors Question Cuba Migration Policy, N.Y. Times (Aug. 31, 2016).

[4] Oppenheimer, It’s time to change Cubans’ special immigration status, InCubaToday (Aug. 31, 2016).

[5] U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Aug. 30, 2016).

Continued Cuban Migrant Problems in Central America

Since late last year large numbers of Cuban migrants have traveled by land through Central America to try to reach the U.S.-Mexico border where they will be paroled into the U.S.[1]

This movement of Cubans continues, and on May 9, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela announced he had agreed with his Mexican counterpart to fly 3,800 Cubans already stranded for weeks in Panama to the Mexico-U.S. border at the Cubans’ expense. The flights began that day and will last two to three weeks.[2]

Varela said it was a difficult decision, but necessary because Nicaragua closed its border to Cubans last year and impeded their journey north and more recently Costa Rica had done likewise. As a result, this March Panama organized flights to Mexico for 1,300 Cubans while insisting such flights would not be repeated.

On May 9 the Panamanian government took additional action to confront this problem by closing its southern border with Colombia in an effort to stop the flow. “We’ve taken the difficult decision to close the border with Colombia in the Puerto Obaldia area and in other parts of the border to prevent the trafficking of illegal immigrants,” Varela said.

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[1] Here are a few of the posts regarding Cuban migrants in Central America: Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015); Cuban Migration Developments (Jan. 21, 2016); Another Cuban Migrant Problem in Central America (April 17, 2016).

[2] Reuters, Panama Closes Border With Colombia to Stem Migrant Flow, N.Y. Times (May 9, 2016); Assoc. Press, Panama Closes Border to Cubans, Flies Others to Mexico, N.Y. Times (May 9, 2016); Panama begins more flights of Cuban migrants to Mexico, BBC News (May 9, 2016); Wyss, Cuban migrants face dangerous, grueling jungle trip as Panama clamps down, Miami Herald (May 9, 2016).

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.

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[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]

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[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]

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[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)