QCOSTARICA – “This is not a bus, if today’s flight (of Cubans) is not full at 2 p.m., the airline will not fly” said Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Manuel Gonzalez, Foreign Minister on Tuesday.
President Luis Guillermo Solis had stronger words, warning the Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica, that “If the Cubans do not leave by plane, their visa will be revoked and we be forced to deport them.”
The warning message followed reports that many of the Cuban migrants might not take the flights arranged by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a break down of the arrangement designed to move them from Costa Rica to close to the U.S. border in Mexico.
Both Solis and Gonzalez showed their irritation over a Diario Extra report in which the owner of a travel agency said he could have offered the trips at a much lower cost, some US$88 less than the government arranged travel. The report fueled the sentiment of many Cuban migrants of being exploited by the government of Costa Rica.
The first direct flight for the Cuban migrants from Costa Rica to Mexico on Tuesday was “successful,” all reaching the U.S. border, Foreign Minister Gonzalez said.
The flight took off Tuesday with 113 aboard, six shy of the maximum capacity of 118.
There are two flights today, at 5am and 8am for 236 people, leaving Liberia and arriving at Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The cost is US$805 for each person.
The first two flights (prior to Tuesday) landed the Cuban migrants in El Salvador, then bused to Guatemala and the Mexico border, where they were issued a 20 day visa to reach the U.S. border on their own.
Cuban migrants have been in the country on a temporary visa since mid-November, when Nicaragua closed its borders to the Cubans. Since then Costa Rica issued almost 8,000 temporary visas to the islanders. According to official figures, some 4,000 Cubans remain in shelters, confirming speculation that many of the Cuban migrants, starting in the new year, decided to take their chances with “coyotes” (smugglers) to cross illegally into Nicaragua and make their way north to the U.S. border.