On this special day, here’s our Christmas wish: that President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua finds it in his heart to help thousands of beleaguered Cuban migrants caught in a devilish geopolitical trap in Central America.
For weeks, some 6,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica, making their way on foot from Ecuador to the U.S. border, have been waiting for transit visas from neighboring Nicaragua, which abruptly stopped allowing passage last month.
Mr. Ortega has the power to put an end to their misery. Instead, he’s acting like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Nicaragua’s sudden policy reversal caught both the migrants and Costa Rican officials by surprise. Until that moment, Mr. Ortega’s government had routinely granted transit visas to thousands in a steady stream of such migrants taking advantage of the United States’ open-door policy for all refugees from Cuba who show up on the U.S. border.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
It’s not hard to figure out the politics behind Nicaragua’s cruel action. Its left-wing government has close ties to the Castro regime in Cuba, which wants to pressure Washington to end the refugee policy that favors Cubans, saying it encourages illegal emigration. A manufactured humanitarian crisis in Central America suits that purpose perfectly.
To underscore the point, the Ortega government points the finger of blame at the United States — of course. “The situation should be resolved not by Central America but by the United States since it is the one that has prompted many Cubans to want to try to get to it,” Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said recently.
If the land bridge to the United States were still open at both ends, we could agree that action was needed to stop the march of refugees through Central America and Mexico. But that is no longer the case. Ecuador has started requiring visas for Cubans, which effectively blocks the migrant stream at the point of origin. But that’s no help for the Cubans stranded in Costa Rica.
They’re stuck, until Mr. Ortega’s government relents.
Up to now, the government of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis has been the only party to show any kindness in this pitiful drama. The stranded Cubans are being put up in schools, tents and makeshift shelters along the border with Nicaragua, waiting for a chance to continue their northern odyssey.
But it’s not fair to the Ticos, as Costa Ricans are called, to strain their generosity. Nor is the hospitality that Costa Rica’s people offer the migrants a substitute for the Nicaraguan transit visas the visitors want.
We have suggested that it may be time for the United States to rethink the Cuban Adjustment Act, which indeed is a magnet for Cubans who want out of their island nation.
The best solution, of course, is to bring democracy to Cuba and give the Cuban people a reason to believe that they don’t have to leave home in order to have a brighter future.
But the Cuban migrants in Central America can’t wait that long for relief from their plight. They don’t have the means to go home, and they can’t continue on their journey. The president of Nicaragua is the only one who can help.
So how about it, Mr. Ortega? Have a heart. Lift the blockade at the border and let the Cubans through. It’s Christmas.
It’s a gift the recipients will never forget — and neither will you.