The crisis of a new generation of Cuban refugees trying to reach South Florida — but now stranded in Central America — is a humanitarian problem that requires a quick, multinational solution, and that includes the United States.
The plight of the 3,000 men, women and children stuck in Costa Rica and trying to make their passage to the United States was bound to turn into a humanitarian crisis sooner or later because what was once a trickle has grown into a river of migrants.
In the last fiscal year, 45,000 Cubans presented themselves at U.S. border crossings with Mexico, and many of them came through Central America. Now, for domestic political reasons, a friend of the Castro government in Cuba, has blocked the border with Costa Rica to prevent their passage.
The Obama administration cannot look the other way because this group is attracted by the Cuban Adjustment Act that lets Cuban refugees into this country automatically upon arrival at the border. The White House can’t change the law by itself — only Congress can do that — but it could conceivably stop entries from a third county, like Mexico.
Costa Rica wants to help the Cubans. It has asked for a “migration corridor” through Central America that would allow migrants from Cuba to reach their final destination, where they can enter without repercussions, thanks to the act.
For now, Costa Rica’s President Luis Guillermo Solis said his government will continue issuing transit visas to Cubans. He has asked the government of Nicaragua to open the border to let them continue their journey to the U.S.
But Nicaragua so far is not budging from its intransigent stance. That means the migrants are indefinitely stuck in a bottleneck at the border, where they are being housed in makeshift camps. They can’t move forward, and going back after so long a trek is hard to accept.
But even if Nicaragua were to agree, that would not solve the problem because so many others would be sure to follow. With good reason, President Solis fears that if the Cubans are not allowed to continue north, they will fall prey to organized smuggling rings. In fact, the current crisis sprouted up when the Costa Rican police dismantled a trafficking network charging Cubans exorbitant fees to take them from Ecuador to the Mexico border.
Now Cubans are making it to Colombia, then heading north by foot, cars or boats via Panama and a string of Central American countries. It’s hard to imagine the desperation fueling this human caravan.
Triggering this recent exodus is the fear that the Adjustment Act might be in danger of repeal in light of the recent restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
But the U.S. government maintains that no plans exist to do away with it, even though the unique entry law, which applies only to Cubans, is under political attack.
The reality is that the Cuban regime continues to offer a life of despair, poverty and repression to its citizens, which in turn leads them to seek a better life elsewhere, principally in the United States.
Never mind the recent thawing of relations with our country and economic measures implemented by Raúl Castro in recent years.
It is this hopelessness that forces thousands of Cubans to leave in search of better horizons.
Until the situation in Cuba changes, its citizens will continue to emigrate by any means.