Nicaragua's 'intransigence' prevents regional solution to Cuban migrant crisis on border, Costa Rica says

Tim Rogers

(Part VI in Fusion's special series on Cubans' 5,000-mile trek to freedom. Full series at the bottom)

The stalemate on Costa Rica's northern border, where more than 3,000 Cubans are trapped in migratory limbo, took a turn for the worse on Tuesday night after Nicaragua's Sandinista government refused to negotiate a “humanitarian corridor” with other Central American countries.


Nicaragua, which militarized its border on Nov. 15 to stop the surge of Cubans from heading to the United States, dug in its heels during Tuesday’s regional summit by refusing to lift its border blockade and turning a deaf ear to the concerns raised by other countries, human rights organizations and Catholic Church leaders.

Instead of offering any solutions, the Sandinista government blamed the problem on Costa Rica and told the Tico government to fix it by “removing” the Cubans from the border. “We can’t rule out the possibility of another invasion of our territory promoted and encouraged by Costa Rica,” warned Nicaragua's spokeswoman and first lady Rosario Murillo, who claims the border closing is to protect the country's security and sovereignty.

Costa Rica, which, along with church groups and NGOs, has assumed the burden of the feeding and sheltering thousands of Cubans in 12 shelters along its northern border, isn’t having it.

Three women walk past Nicaraguan riot police to enter Costa Rica, which still has its border open
Tim Rogers

“Nicaragua’s intransigence didn’t allow an integrated or joint solution to the problem, but that won’t impede us from looking for another way out,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said after Tuesday's failed summit.

He said the dozen other countries at the summit witnessed Nicaragua acting in “bad faith” and “understand that this isn’t a situation provoked by Costa Rica.”


“Unfortunately, even though there were 12 countries at the meeting, one country—Nicaragua—had nothing to offer and instead prevented us from arriving at a reasonable solution,” the Costa Rican minister said.

Que te pasa, mae?

The Sandinista government insists its decision to militarize the border and stop the Cubans from crossing Nicaragua was a decision made to defend rule of law and national sovereignty. But rule of law and sovereignty are relative concepts in Nicaragua—a country where the president sidestepped the constitution to get himself reelected in 2011, then rammed a dubious law through congress to cut the country in half by ceding a massive swath of land to an unknown Chinese businessman who wants to build a canal.


The more likely explanation to the border closing is that Nicaragua is acting on the behest of the Castro brothers, who want to create a massive humanitarian crisis in a hardball attempt to force the U.S. to revoke the Cuban Adjustment Act. Recent statements by the Cuban government, which is blaming the border crisis on the Cuban Adjustment Act, add fuel to the hypothesis that Havana is calling the shots on the Nicaraguan border.

Two days after the Sandinistas deployed troops and fired tear gas at the Cuban migrants, Cuba’s foreign ministry released a statement blaming the situation on the Cuban Adjustment Act, which the communist government says “stimulates irregular emigration from Cuba to the United States and is a violation of the letter and spirit of the migratory agreements in effect.”


In closing the border, the Sandinistas are also getting a guilty pleasure out of sticking it to their old neighborhood nemesis, Costa Rica. There are currently 3,660 Cubans stuck in Costa Rica, and hundreds more arriving every day from Panama. The worsening situation is already costing the Tico government and Costa Rican NGOs, including the Red Cross, tens of thousands of dollars each day.

But if Cuba is behind the border closing, as many suspect, it’s going to be a huge problem for the migrants as well as Central American stability. Sandinista intransigence has never needed much encouragement in the past, but with Cuba’s blessing it could go on indefinitely.


The Sandinistas have long thrived on brinksmanship and the politics of crisis. So buckle up, cause this could get ugly.

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