BELIZE CITY, Belize (AP) — The government of Belize on Tuesday rejected a proposal from Costa Rica to move nearly 3,000 Cuban migrants stranded at that country's border with Nicaragua through Belize.
In a statement, Prime Minister Dean Barrow's government said the proposal was considered in a meeting with his Cabinet, but they decided it is a regional problem and should be handled as such.
"At this juncture, the government of Belize is unable to make any commitments outside of a regional arrangement," the statement said.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez expressed disappointment.
"We feel deeply disillusioned with Belize's decision," Gonzalez said in a statement. "Without a doubt, this decision complicates significantly the situation of the migrants in Costa Rica and delays their exit from the country."
Nicaragua, a close Cuban ally, closed its border to Cuban migrants in mid-November after Costa Rica granted them transit visas to travel across its territory, sparking a diplomatic spat between the Central American neighbors. That has left nearly 3,000 Cubans awaiting a resolution at the border.
Costa Rica had proposed to bypass Nicaragua by flying the Cubans to Belize so they could continue their journey in hopes of reaching the United States, where they would receive automatic residency under U.S. law. Belize lies on the southern border of Mexico.
Gonzalez said Costa Rica would continue looking for a way to move the migrants through Central America and for additional financial support to cover their care while in his country.
The Costa Rican government warned Cuban migrants who have not yet entered the country that they should not come because conditions do not exist to receive them.
Some 45,000 Cubans are expected to move through South and Central American countries to the U.S. border this year. The Cubans fear that with the normalization of relations between their country and the United States that the special immigration privileges they enjoy in the U.S. could come to an end.
Associated Press writer Patrick E. Jones reported this story in Belize City and AP Writer Javier Cordoba reported from San Jose, Costa Rica.