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C America states agree breakthrough on stranded Cuban migrants

Guatemala City: Central American countries have agreed a breakthrough in the case of thousands of US-bound Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica, after weeks of often acrimonious regional diplomacy.

In a meeting in Guatemala City yesterday, representatives from several of the countries said they would fly some of the Cubans to El Salvador, where they would be put on buses to cross Guatemala and enter Mexico.

Separate statements by the Guatemalan and Costa Rican governments said the exercise would be a “pilot plan” to be carried out in “the first week of January.”

They did not say how many of the up to 8,000 Cubans currently stuck in Costa Rica would be flown out, stressing that talks on the logistics still needed to be held.

A Costa Rican foreign ministry official said the migrants would be paying for the transport themselves.

The announcement suggested a bitter row among Central American nations over the Cubans could be on its way to being resolved.

The issue blew up into what several of the nations termed a “humanitarian crisis” when Nicaragua in mid-November closed its border to the Cubans, who had been given Costa Rican transit visas.

Costa Rica’s efforts to have countries north of Nicaragua admit the Cubans had been in vain up to yesterday.

San Jose’s mounting frustration with its neighbours exploded of December 18 when it suspended its political participation in the Central American Integration System (SICA), a regional body meant to promote cooperation between member states.

It also said it would accept no more Cubans itself and threatened any more arrivals with deportation back to their home country.

Pope Francis on Sunday pleaded with Central American nations to end the Cubans’ “humanitarian drama”. A week earlier, he had called on Costa Rica and Nicaragua to improve ties frayed by years of border disputes.

Yesterday’s meeting in Guatemala City brought together foreign ministry officials from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, as well as representatives from the International Organisation for Migration — but not Nicaragua.

The number of Cubans trying to get to the United States jumped this year, following the December 2014 announcement by Washington and Havana that they were thawing relations frozen since the Cold War.

Many Cubans fear that the rapprochement will put an end to America’s longstanding policy of taking them in if they make it over a land border.