Friday 3 February 2023

The Business Of Moving Cuban Migrants In The Region

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Photo John Duran, La Nacion
Photo John Duran, La Nacion

QCOSTARICA – The travel by Cuban migrants to the United States across South and Central America has multiplied in the last three years, as Cubans leaving Havana move through ten countries, victimized by human traffickers, corrupt officials and guerrillas.

Coyotes (as they are called in Spanish) take advantage, charging the islanders between US$7,000 and US$10,000 dollars each, to make the almost 8,000 kilometre trek from Cuba to anywhere in the United States.

The article in the REVISTA DOMINICAL by La Nacion, details the route taken by the Cubans, and whose news of their successful arrival to the U.S. motivates entire families to leave their country and venture out.

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The first leg of the trek is a flight from La Habana to Quito, Ecuador, where Cubans do not need a visa. With instructions where to go and who to reach out to, on arrival they obtain  a cellular phone chip and information on the network of contacts in the region, in the countries of Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the last stop: the United States.

Some 2,500 are today stranded in Costa Rica, waiting... Photo: John Duran, Andres Arce - La Nacion
Some 2,500 are today stranded in Costa Rica, waiting… Photo: John Duran, Andres Arce – La Nacion

The Cubans make the trip with the firm understanding that reaching any point in the United States, they enjoy the benefits of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which gives them access to special immigration status.

Cubans consulted at the Nicaragua border agree that the most dangerous, and with the most charges was Colombia.

What else is there to do but wait? Photo John Duran, La Nacion
What else is there to do but wait? Photo John Duran, La Nacion

“At all check points, Colombian police took our money to look the other way. We were held prisoners for a day, and the head of the immigration negotiated with us,” related Nasandry Soto, 34, to La Nacion, a nurse travelling with her husband.

A migrant who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals, said: “the guerrillas grabbed me in Colombia, the only thing they took from me was money, that is what they what wanted and nothing happened.”

Nasandry and others all said about the same, in Colombia, authorities gave them salveconductos (transit visas) for passage through the country, the police demanded bribes.

In Costa Rica, Cuban migrants play dominos to pass the time... Photo John Duran, La Nacion
In Costa Rica, Cuban migrants play dominos to pass the time… Photo John Duran, La Nacion
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To pay for their trip, food, lodging and the bribes, the Cubans have two main sources of funding: one, sell everything in Cuba; two, receive money from relatives in the United States, mainly in Miami.

In Costa Rica, they move from the Panama border to Nicaragua by land. At the Panama border, they are issued an official summons to appear at the San Jose immigration office, in order to complete the migration process of deportation to a third country: Nicaragua, charging them US$80, say the Cubans. Some avoid San Jose and go directly north.

Kathya Rodriguez, director of immigration, confirmed that in 2012 they had an Immigration Police van to move these people, but it was eliminated because there were too many of them.

Currently, carriers move Cubans from San Jose to the Nicaragua border for US$50 per person.

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Costa Rica became a problem for the islanders when, on November 12, authorities dismantled a trafficking ring that moved them across the country, into Nicaragua. The situation became a crisis when Nicaragua decided not allow Cuban migrants through their country.

Today, more than 2,500 Cubans are in Costa Rica, many in shelters, others preferring to camp out a the Peñas Blancas immigraiton post, waiting.

On Tuesday the Foreign Ministers of the region will be meeting to discuss Costa Rica’s proposal for a “humanitarian corridor” for the Cuban migrants.

Some of the Cubans in the country say they left Cuba as early as June, others in September and October.

The Broken Road

The REVISTA DOMINICAL explains in a graphic the journey of the Cuban migrants.


1. Leave La Habana, Cuba, by air from the international airport.

2. They arrive in Quito, Ecuador, where Cubans do not need a visa. In the city they spend between two and five days, waiting on instructions. Here is where the Coyotes collect their money, give them a phone chip, names of contacts and places to go.

3. They leave Quito for Medellin by land. The Coyotes guide them to the Colombia border, always travelling close to the Pacific coast. This is where the “cobronazos” (bribes) and “peajes” (tolls) start.

4. From Medellin they make their way to Puerto Obaldia, where they make their way through the swamps, the guerrillas charging their tolls and corrupt Colombian police. The tolls can be between US$100 and US$300. The travel is by night, in boats and on foot.

5. They Puerto Obaldia for the Dairen Gap by sea, then by land, through Panama to the Paso Canoas border. The Panama route is calmer, reportedly there is the least number of abuses.

6. In Costa Rica, the migrations travel by bus to San Jose, where the Coyotes take them to downtown hotels, then by bus, taxis (formal and informal) to the Peñas Blancas border with Nicaragua. The cost is US$50 per person. Near the Nicaragua border, the Coyotes hide the migrants in a safe house. Some pay up to US$80 to corrupt police.

7. In Nicaragua, by way of the Interamericana, they head for Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Brides are reportedly paid in Rivas, Managua and Matagalpa.

8. From Honduras the migrants head for El Salvador, moving on the Interamericana to Guatemala.

9. From Guatemala the next part of the voyage is to Tapachula, Mexico, in clandestine flights taken to “blind spot” in the border between Mexico and the United States.

10. At the U.S. border, the migrants are led by coyotes to points where they can be detained by U.S. immigration, where they identify themselves as Cubans and ask they be welcomed under the Cuban Adjustment Act.


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