Guatemala disputes stranded Cubans need humanitarian access

Recently, thousands of Cubans determined to make it to the US bcame stranded in Costa Rica because their passage through Central America was blocked (AFP Photo/Ezequiel Becerra)

Guatemala City (AFP) - Guatemala on Wednesday rejected an argument by Costa Rica that thousands of stranded US-bound Cuban migrants should be allowed to travel through Central America on humanitarian grounds.

Vice President Alfonso Fuentes told a news conference that "they are not politically persecuted people, just people who want to join their families in the United States or who are looking for a better economic life."

His characterization was another blow to efforts by Costa Rica to persuade its Central American neighbors to take in some 5,000 to 7,000 Cubans stranded on its territory and permit them to continue their journey to the US.

The Cubans have been stuck in Costa Rica since mid-November, when Nicaragua closed its border to them.

Costa Rica has been so frustrated with the impasse it has ceased issuing visas to Cubans and warned it will start deporting any new arrivals back to Cuba.

Last week it also suspended its political participation in the Central American Integration System, a regional body meant to promote cooperation.

Some Central American countries including Guatemala are resentful of the Cubans' easy access to the United States, which has a Cold War-era policy of accepting them even as it makes it very difficult for citizens of other Latin American countries to enter.

On Tuesday, migration officials from the foreign ministries from Central America, the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador held a meeting in Mexico City to discuss the problem, but no solution was found.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said after the meeting that "unfortunately the Guatemalan position was unchanged" from previous discussions.

Gonzalez said yet another meeting was scheduled for next Monday "in Guatemala or again in Mexico."