Cuban migrants in limbo as C.America summit ends

Oscar Batres
1 / 3

Central American leaders pose for the official picture of the XLVI Summit of Heads of State and Government of the SICA, at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in San Salvador on December 18, 2015

Central American leaders pose for the official picture of the XLVI Summit of Heads of State and Government of the SICA, at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in San Salvador on December 18, 2015 (AFP Photo/Marvin Recinos)

San Salvador (AFP) - A summit of Central American leaders in El Salvador on Friday failed to break a regional impasse over the fate of 5,000 US-bound Cuban migrants blocked in Costa Rica for weeks.

"There was no solution at this summit to the problem with the Cuban migrants. There was no consensus over what should be done -- each country has its own point of view on the matter," Nicaragua's deputy foreign minister, Denis Moncada, told AFP.

He added that his country's view was that the United States should step in to offer a solution.

The Cubans -- another 1,200 of whom are also stranded in Panama -- have been left in limbo for a month, since Nicaragua closed its border to them on November 15 and posted soldiers and police to ensure none slipped in.

The migrants are the tail end of a stream of Cubans leaving their island in a bid to reach America, driven by a fear that thawing Washington-Havana ties might put an end to a Cold War-era US policy of accepting Cubans who step foot on US soil.

- No consensus -

That stream spiked higher this year, before Ecuador ended its visa-free entry for Cubans this month. That shut the door on their principal entry point to mainland Latin America before an overland slog through Central America and Mexico to the US border.

Costa Rica, which in November dismantled a people-smuggling ring the Cubans had been relying on, has been trying in vain to get other Central American states to take in the migrants and let them continue their journey.

Nicaragua, though, has been steadfast in refusing them in.

Its stance spoke to longstanding tensions with Costa Rica over border disputes, one of which was this week ruled in Costa Rica's favor by the International Court of Justice. Nicaragua's alliance with Cuba's government is also seen as a factor.

Nicaragua's deputy foreign minister said Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis held bilateral meetings Friday with counterparts and Nicaragua's official handling the issue, but no agreement was found.

"Nicaragua has given its position in the matter: that 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," Moncada said.

- Costa Rica frustrated -

In a sign of Costa Rica's frustration, Solis left the summit before its close without making a promised speech on the Cuban migrant issue.

Nicaragua's government issued a statement to reporters after the summit that "demands that the United States find a solution for the immediate and safe transfer to its territory of the thousands of Cubans blocked on this dangerous transit route."

Several of the other countries represented at the summit, which included host El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Belize and the Dominican Republic, called for a solution, but offered nothing concrete beyond insisting a consensus was needed.

The thousands of Cubans are being put up in schools and tents in northern Costa Rica, near the Nicaraguan border, waiting for their chance to continue their odyssey north.