United States

Costa Rica Asks Belize to Accept Stranded Cuban Migrants

Costa Rica has asked Belize to accept nearly 3,000 Cuban migrants who have been stuck at the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua for weeks, authorities said Friday.

The plan envisions flying the migrants to Belize, which is on Mexico's southeastern border. From there the Cubans would presumably continue north toward their stated destination: the United States, where special migrant policies let them stay once they touch U.S. soil.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said Belize's council of ministers will meet Tuesday to consider Costa Rica's proposal.

Gonzalez said authorities ruled out transporting the migrants to Guatemala because officials in that Central American nation said conditions did not exist to guarantee their safety.

"Mexico insists that (the Cubans) must be received from another country _ that they cannot arrive directly in Mexico," he said. "For that reason we had been thinking of Guatemala, and now we are considering Belize."

Nicaragua closed its border to the Cubans in mid-November after Costa Rica granted them transit visas to travel across its territory, sparking a diplomatic spat between the Central American neighbors.

Cuba has seen a spike in outward migration since last year's announcement that it and the United States would restore diplomatic relations. Many Cuban migrants say they have chosen to leave now out of fear that detente could bring an end to the U.S. migration policies that benefit them, although U.S. officials say no change is in the works.

Cuba and Nicaragua, a close ally, blame the long-established U.S. policies for encouraging islanders to leave and say they are responsible for a brain-drain of the young and skilled.

Recently Ecuador announced that it would begin requiring Cubans to obtain visas to enter its territory. Until now, the South American country had been a favored launching point for many U.S.-bound Cuban migrants because he didn't require foreign visitors to get a visa. From there, Cubans often made their way north by land through Central America and Mexico.

Gonzalez said Costa Rican authorities were negotiating with airlines about possibly transporting the Cuban migrants.

"I want to be very clear that the costs of transportation will have to be assumed by each person who travels," he said. "The government of Costa Rica cannot assume these costs."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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