The takedown of a human smuggling ring has created a humanity crisis inside and at the doorstep of the country.
Costa Rican immigration agents and police have blocked the way of some 1,200 Cubans who are seeking to cross the country on the way to the United States. The 1,200 are at the Paso Canoas border crossing with Panamá where they expected to be joined by other Cubans today and over the weekend.
The Cubans are those who have followed a traditional route to arrive in the United States. First they flew from Cuba to Ecuador, which has an open door for these travelers. Then they traveled by land, mostly in public buses or vans through Colombia to Panamá.
Costa Rica investigators broke up a human smuggling ring this week, and the organization assisted many Cubans to cross the country on the way to the United States. The arrest of ring members is believed to have created chaos in the illegal migrant channels.
Agents made eight raids Tuesday morning and detained 12 persons, including the administrator of a San José hotel. Investigators said that the illegal migrants were charged from $7,000 to $30,000 for help in traveling through Central America to the U.S. border.
More than 300 illegal Cubans were in danger of being deported from San José Thursday. Some had been picked up when the smuggling ring safe houses were raided. Nearly 50 actually were transported to the Nicaraguan border for deportation.
Kattia Rodríguez said that police were called in at the southern border because there were not enough immigration agents to handle the crowd. Police with transparent riot shields and other heavy equipment confronted the Cubans. The illegal migrants were demanding safe conduct documents to cross Costa Rica.
Most of the illegal migrants have no place to stay and little money to care for themselves.
Immigration officials estimate that about 20,000 illegal Cubans manage to cross the country each year. The existence of more smuggling rings is suspected. Most of the Cubans are men and women in their 20s and 30s.
Costa Rica has an immigration lockup, but the capacity is about 20 men and 20 women. Those who were being deported Thursday filled the facility’s courtyard.
Costa Rica President Luis Guillermo Solís plans to visit Cuba on an official visit Dec. 15 and 16. The situation of the illegal migrants is certain to be a discussion topic. His visit is the first by a Costa Rica chief executive since Fidel Castro took power.