Meeting in El Salvador on Cuban migrants ends in squabbling

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2015 10:39 PM
Meeting in El Salvador on Cuban migrants ends in squabbling

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — A meeting between Central American officials and their counterparts from Ecuador, Colombia and Cuba broke down in squabbling Tuesday over how to deal with the problem of thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica.

The migrants have started using on overland route to reach the United States by traveling to Ecuador, then through Central America and Mexico.

That has sparked tensions in Central America, with Nicaragua on Tuesday accusing its southern neighbor Costa Rica of "unleashing an invasion of illegal Cuban migrants" on it.

"Our governments do not have the resources to deal with this new threat to our national security," the Nicaraguan government said in a statement, suggesting that the wave could facilitate terrorism or migrants from other countries.

The statement also criticized the Cold-War era U.S. policies that allow the Cubans special status as migrants. Nicaragua's leftist government has warm ties with Cuba. .

Costa Rica, meanwhile, accused Nicaragua of scuttling a chance for a "regional and humanitarian solution" to the problem. It has proposed creating a humanitarian corridor through the region for the migrants.

"Nicaragua repeatedly blocked any proposal to solve the problem, without presenting any solution other than blockade and intransigence," Costa Rica's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said "I regret the lack of results from this long day of work," adding that it was "a little discouraging for the thousands of people who have been waiting for an answer."

On Nov. 13, Costa Rica allowed Cubans to transit the country to Nicaragua. Nicaragua dispatched soldiers to the border to block the Cubans' passage, setting off minor clashes at the Penas Blancas crossing on Nov. 15. The dispute has left some 3,000 Cubans stranded in shelters in Guanacaste province on the Nicaraguan border.

Once Cubans reach the U.S. border, they can just show up at an established U.S. port of entry and declare their nationality, avoiding the dangerous desert crossings that confront many migrants who try to avoid U.S. Border Patrol.

According to El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez, the majority of those attending said each country should be able to decide how and whether to receive the stream of migrants.

"The self-determination of each of the countries in the region should be respected ... each country has the right to allow these people in, or not allow them in," Martinez said.

The Cubans have generated little sympathy in some parts of Central America, in part because citizens of countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador enjoy none of the incentives given to Cuban migrants.

Martinez suggested "these are measures are to some extent discriminatory against other migrants."