The case of the stranded Cubans and Central America

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Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English, January 7th 2016
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Case-of-the-Stranded-Cubans...

Central America's continuing migratory crisis intensified in mid-November when a group of hundreds of paperless Cuban migrants (who later in a matter of some six weeks would turn into several thousands) appeared asking for help at the border between Panama and Costa Rica. That destabilizing surge of precarious migrants has apparently been solved via what is a still uncertain plan to start a pilot project next week for the migrants' deportation from Costa Rica to the US-Mexican border via El Salvador and Guatemala.

Apart from being uncertain, this solution is necessarily unstable and unsatisfactory since the root of the problem lies in the fact that Cuban citizens, thanks to a United States law called the “Cuban Adjustment Act”, are the only migrants in the world bestowed with the astonishing privilege of being entitled to residency in the US (a Green Card) just by setting foot on US soil, legally or illegally.

 Immigration policy is one of the oldest weapons in the US arsenal against Cuba's socialist government. Since the first days of the Cuban Revolution, the US has used migration by Cubans as a political missile. Illegal migration of Cubans to the US is rewarded while legal visa applications, except for US government collaborators, are refused. This policy forces people determined to leave Cuba to risk their lives at sea or in other dangerous journeys in the hands of human trafficking mafias. But Cuban collaborators with US efforts to destabilize the country get preferential treatment in order to further subvert Cuba's legitimate internal order.

Thus, for over 50 years, the richest country on Earth has opened its gates wide to the population of a small Third-World country with limited resources and also illegally subjected to extremely severe economic sanctions. It is a deliberately coercive policy designed, among other things, to encourage the flight of Cuban skills, talent and knowledge, while at the same time undermining Cuba's security and eroding the stability of the country's laws in relation to migration.

This selective United States migratory policy operates in a context in which the imperial superpower systematically hinders Latin American immigration, especially from Central America - the region where the intensified migratory crisis referred to earlier is taking place. As a case in point, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans face multiple hardships while attempting to enter the United States, and also even after they've been able to do so. Under president Obama's administration, some 2.5 million foreigners have been deported from the US - an average of 650 every day or almost 2 every minute.

It is no coincidence that in 2011, Cuba's then-president Fidel Castro posed the uncomfortable question of why the US, instead of having a "Cuban Adjustment Act", didn't pass a "Latin American Adjustment Act" in order to spare the huge number of Latin Americans who every year risk their lives trying to enter the United States enticed by what is rapidly becoming the receding mirage of a better life.

Another element that unleashed the crisis of the stranded Cubans in Costa Rica is the process of normalization of relations between the US and Cuba that started on December 17th, 2014. One of the most contested points in the bilateral agenda of those talks is precisely the lifting by the US of the infamous Cuban Adjustment Act - a law with fewer and fewer defenders in Latin America and, too, in the United States.

It is understandable that many Cubans with relatives living in Miami and other parts of the United States would want to seize what might be their last chance to get a green card in the US as soon as possible, facing the prospects of an imminent abolition of the Act. That trend was encouraged for a while by Ecuador's policy, later reversed, of not requiring visas for Cuban citizens - a decision consistent with the South American country's justified ambition to have a migration policy as open as possible. Until some weeks ago, this policy encouraged many Cubans able to raise the money for airline tickets and extortionate payments to intermediary coyotes to find an easy way to illegally reach the US via Ecuador, Colombia and Central America.

However, it seems very unlikely that some 8.000 Cubans could gather more or less overnight in Costa Rica without help from forces interested in promoting a counter-revolutionary political agenda against Cuba, one also aimed at destabilizing the other ALBA countries, including Nicaragua. Among the obvious forces interested in promoting that agenda are those in Miami who have lived parasitically for decades off US government anti-Cuban political funding. Thus, in recent weeks counter-revolutionary media such as Radio and TV Marti have gleefully exploited the plight of the stranded Cubans. Multinational disinformation media, led by CNN, have joined and amplified the chorus of those extremist Miami-based outlets.

In Costa Rica, the anti-Cuban angle was further compounded by anti-Nicaraguan rhetoric. Nicaragua's authorities refused to allow transit to the Cuban migrants to whom the Costa Rica government had recklessly extended temporary visas without consulting their Nicaraguan counterparts at all. Costa Rica's government and media promptly accused the Nicaraguan government of xenophobia - a paradoxical claim given the record of repeated accusations against the Costa Rican authorities by the UN of racism and discrimination towards hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan and other Central American immigrants living on its soil.

Given the menace of organized crime in the region, Nicaragua simply could not behave like its southern neighbor and give the hapless Cubans - who in no way were accused of any crime nor were in any way wanted by their own authorities - a safe-conduct to a country that was not their home country. No government serious about combating human trafficking could do such a thing. From Managua's point of view, the fundamental problem is restrictive US migratory policy together with the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which artificially create first- and second-class migrants. If international law were to be enforced to the letter, those Cuban migrants would have been deported back to their country and the US Adjustment Act would finally be abolished.

Costa Rica's insistent attempts to make the other Central American countries follow its own reckless example also failed. At first, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize refused to issue the Cubans safe-conduct. Those refusals caused a bitter reaction from the Costa Rican government, including the announcement of its withdrawal from important mechanisms of the Central American Integration System (CAIS) - a system towards which, in any case, Costa Rica has never shown a strong attachment.

Finally, after many meetings, an agreement was reached between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico in order to grant the Cubans safe passage through the region at an economic cost as low as possible for El Salvador and Guatemala. With this agreement, which continues to be negotiated right up until the last minute by delegations of all the countries involved, an acceptable solution is finally expected to a conflict that has caused much rumpus but one that has proved to have very little substance. The end of the Cuban Adjustment Act is inexorably approaching while the story of the stranded Cubans "humanitarian emergency" loses attraction by the day, especially when compared with truly dramatic scenes taking place elsewhere both in the region and around the world and bearing in mind the fact that the Cuban migrants can actually safely return home.

Meanwhile, with or without stranded Cubans, the migrant-exporting countries in Central America face an ongoing wave of mass-deportations from the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security. Victor Nieblas, president of the Immigration Lawyer's Association of the United States says that the problems of those migrants – second-class compared to the relatively privileged Cuban migrants - must be taken into consideration. "Those Central American women and children are true refugees looking for asylum; they fear for their lives. These women and children must have a meaningful chance to seek protection instead of being sent back to dangerous situation", he said to the media.

For its part, Nicaragua's government has linked the migrant crisis to the region's broader security reality. In a communiqué of November 19th last year the Nicaraguan government proposed in relation to the situation of the Cuban migrants that, “Central America should stand firm in our position of demanding reciprocity from the United States, namely the same, identical humanitarian treatment for our migrants, who continue to be treated as second or third class citizens.

“We support the demand by the Presidents and governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras insisting on dignified conditions and treatment for our disadvantaged migrants who travel, risking everything, to look for work they cannot find in our own small countries, above all because a major part of our resources are devoted, out of necessity, to strengthen the fight against drugs trafficking and organized crime, for whose deep causes people in Central America are not responsible either.”