Cuban migrants may fly out of Costa Rica next week: minister

Cuban Yaniusca Sosa cooks at a Methodist church sheltering 35 Cuban refugees in Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, on December 29, 2015 (AFP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)

San José (AFP) - A first group of US-bound Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica may fly out of the country to continue their journey next week, Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said Monday.

His comments signalled a delay to a plan announced a week ago to start transferring 7,800 Cubans who are stuck in the country, unable to cross the northern border into Nicaragua, which since November has refused them passage.

Under the "pilot" plan worked out with other Central American nations and Mexico, the first group of around 180 Cubans was meant to have been flown out this week to El Salvador, where they were to be put on buses for an overland journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the US border.

But Gonzalez said that had been pushed back because of logistical problems and stressed that the number of Cubans and the date for their departure were still tentative.

The flight depended on finding an aircraft big enough to take the group -- a challenge during the current tourism high season in Central America -- and coordination with the other governments involved, he said.

"We have done the necessary work so that a mobile consulate from Guatemala can, we hope, start work at the end of this week" in northern Costa Rica to process the group of Cubans for the voyage, Gonzalez said.

"The aim is that sometime next week, or before if possible, the first departure of a group can take place."

He said priority was being given to Cuban families with young children.

He also said the migrants were being required to pay for the flight and buses themselves, along with Costa Rica's $29 exit tax, El Salvador's $60 entry visa and $10 to enter Guatemala -- a big sum for Cubans coming from a country with an average monthly state salary of $20.

Nicaragua, a Cuba ally which has rocky relations with Costa Rica, closed its border to Cuban migrants in November.

The migrants, who had traveled from Ecuador, are risking everything to make it to America, which has a policy dating back to the Cold War to accept any Cuban who sets foot on its soil.

A thaw in US-Cuban enmity announced in December 2014 has failed to provide a better life for many Cubans, prompting a spike in the number leaving their Communist-ruled island for the United States.