In a decision that cut off an exodus of undocumented Cubans toward the United States, Costa Rica has shut off its borders to Cubans without visas and said that those caught sneaking in will be returned to neighboring Panama.
The decision falls hardest on 1,001 undocumented Cubans already detained in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica’s southern border crossing with Panama. Costa Rican authorities started trying to return them to Panama on Wednesday, but as of Friday Panama was refusing to take them back, arguing that they already left its territory.
“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” some of the Cubans held at the Paso Canoas crossing chanted. They demanded that Costa Rica authorities return to its previous system of simply allowing the undocumented Cubans to continue their trip through Central America to Mexico and eventually the United States.
“We are practically abandoned here,” said Wilredo Llerandi, a 36-year-old from Havana. The Cubans tried Thursday to block the Inter-American highway, which runs through Central America, but a Costa Rican police riot squad negotiated a peaceful agreement.
“We have worked very hard to get here. We came from Ecuador as illegal migrants. We came through Colombia, where there are a lot of problems with police and corruption,” Rosalis Taboada, traveling with her seven-year-old daughter, told a local television crew.
“We had to ride buses, hide in houses, go through a lot of work, get on a boat at dawn, with the children really cold, a lot of risky places. We are here now, and we feel a lot better because we have risked our lives to reach Costa Rica,” added Taboada, whose itinerary was very much like those of the other undocumented Cubans.
“It’s difficult for a mother to make her children go through that, but it’s harder to stay in that country (Cuba) because it doesn’t just have economic problems. It has political problems,” she added.