Belize has become the latest country in Central America to deny thousands of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica safe passage to the United States after it refused to allow its territory to be used as part of the migrant route.
Costa Rica had proposed transporting nearly 5,000 Cubans to Belize so they could continue their journey overland to the United States. The migrants have been stuck at the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border since last month, when authorities in Managua barred them from entering the country.
Late Tuesday, however, Belize’s cabinet turned down the petition, saying it wanted a regional solution to the problem.
“We are deeply disillusioned by Belize’s decision,” Costa Rica Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a statement.
The decision is one more blow to Cuban migrants, who have seen their options to get to the United States dwindle.
Many of them began their journey by flying to Ecuador, which didn’t require visas, before making their way overland across Colombia then Central America.
In November, however, Nicaragua closed its borders after more than 1,000 Cubans tried to forcefully enter the country from the south. The administration in Managua blamed Costa Rica for provoking the humanitarian crisis and has since refused to consider passage. On Dec. 1, with the aim of stemming the tide, Ecuador began requiring visas of Cubans.
The migratory wave is being fueled by the United States’ Cuba Adjustment Act, which provides residency and other benefits to Cubans who can set foot on U.S. soil.
Cuba and U.S. officials have been meeting to discuss human trafficking and migration. Havana blames U.S. policies for brain-drain and endangering its countrymen by encouraging them to embark on perilous journeys.
In a regional meeting last month, Costa Rica had proposed creating a “migratory corridor” that would allow them to reach the U.S. southern border through Mexico, but no consensus was reached.
Following that meeting, Guatemala said it wouldn’t allow Cubans to cross its territory.
On Wednesday, President Luis Guillermo Solis said he was deeply disappointed by the lack of “solidarity” in Central America, and he asked for the help of Cubans already in Costa Rica.
“Please spread the word to other Cubans who are preparing to come through Central America and haven’t arrived to Costa Rica yet to hold off until we can resolve your problems, those of you who arrived here first,” he said. “Please tell the people that it’s not due to lack of caring or understanding.”
The government has established 26 emergency shelters in northern and central Costa Rica and has been providing free meals and other services. But Solis said his tiny country needed international help to maintain those services.
He also reassured migrants that they would not be deported to Cuba unless they broke local laws. While he acknowledged the frustration of those stranded for weeks on the border, he also urged calm.
In recent weeks, the Cubans had paralyzed cargo traffic along the border as they tried to pressure Nicaraguan authorities.
“No country in Latin America is going to pay more attention to you because you block roads or come out of your shelters to protest,” Solis said.