Cubans in Costa Rica: Hardship and Waste / Ivan Garcia

Photo from Deutsche Welle.

Ivan Garcia, Costa Rica, 9 December 2015 — Following the guide dictated by a relative who in the Spring of 2015 pointed out the Central American route of eight countries up to the frontier of Laredo in United States, Norberto Fumero, 34-year-old truck driver in Cuba, since his departure from Ecuador has always traveled in small groups.

But now in Puerto Obaldía, in Panama, or en route through Costa Rica – considered by Fumero as “a truce from all the extortion by the police, the ‘coyotes’ and the murderers” – acted with more liberty of movement.

A rainy morning arrived in Paso Canoas, a quiet and level town in Costa Rica at the edge of the border with Panama. “In the march through Colombia we were 14, 11 men and three childless women. Children are an impediment. They make the trip slow and dangerous. Already in Paso Canoas I left the group and I joined four people with enough money to cover a stay that can be extended longer than expected,” says Fumero at the entrance of a hostel in La Cruz, a town about 12 kilometres from the border with Nicaragua.

When he arrived in Paso Canoas, soaked by rain and hungry, he stayed in El Descanso, hotel with corrugated roof tiles and more than 80 rooms.

“I was there three nights. I paid 9 dollars per day and between lunch and breakfast spent about 12 dollars a day. I was traveling with the money hidden within a small battery radio. More or less 8 thousand dollars. By text message from relatives in Miami I heard about the crisis on the border of Nicaragua. Along with four friends, a Costa Rican friend took us from Paso Canoas to a farmhouse on the outskirts of the Cerro de la Muerte,” he recounts while he insists on reading a letter that he and his partners have written to the press.

“We went from the extreme heat in Paso Canoas to a beastly cold during the march via Cerro de la Muerte. We made the trip by stages. When we arrived in Liberia, a town that looks like a city, we boarded a bus to La Cruz, where we awaited the outcome of our cases,” says Fumero.

The steep Cerro de la Muerte has an own microclimate and its legends in tow. Jorge, a Costa Rican cabbie, in a low voice told them that by night, on the Hill people with hoods hiding their faces pass by and the cries of women are heard.

But Fumero and his friends were not going to listen to fables. “It’s a place like any other. We traveled at night in the back of a pickup truck. Never in my life I’ve been so cold,” he recalls.

While they wait for lunch, Fumero reads enthusiastically a letter written in pencil which, pretentiously, requested the authorities of Costa Rica to adopt the following strategy:

“Point one: enable a ship to skirt Nicaragua in order to arrive in Honduras. Point two: establish humanitarian flights from Costa Rica to Honduras. If not possible, at least allow the Cubans who can afford the ticket to travel to Honduras,” he reads with tenor voice while his friends nod their heads.

In the town of La Cruz there are four shelters. In a rundown alley, next to a lookout point with a spectacular view, is the highest capacity shelter, located in the gym and classrooms of a high school.

The shelters have a schedule and a handful of standards. Until ten in the evening the Cubans walk from one end to another the settlement of La Cruz. They also sit in an airy and broad park in the center of the village, where they see a Real Madrid football match at the Bella Vista hostel.

In the group of more than 4 thousand Cubans stranded in Costa Rica there is a segment with roomy pockets who can rent rooms in hotels and even cars or motorcycles to visit nearby beaches.

But they are the few. When evening falls, some come to a rough bar to take a drink of Peleón rum or a couple of Imperial beers. And every journalist who arrives at the hostel is eager to address them with questions about a possible solution to the immigration crisis.

Scattered on rubber foam mattresses they spend their time sending messages by cell phones, sitting in front of the TV or getting in long lines at the Western Union Office, to receive money orders from relatives from Florida.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 25, local authorities set up a children’s party which included a clown. Lunch that day consisted of white rice, red beans, and a beef hamburger.

Nayda Cosset, a telecommunications engineer who fled Cuba with her boyfriend, said that “the food is scarce and bad. Only when journalists visit or visitors from the Red Cross come does the quality improves. The treatment is good. But we are going crazy wanting to move ahead.”

At the entrance of the shelter at La Cruz they have placed portable toilets and in the back showers have been set up. Only a single Costa Rican watchman, unarmed, enforces calm.

“Despite their dislike for not be able to continue their march, their behavior is good. There have been cases of disputes and complaints because of what they consider poor treatment,” points out the custodian.

The Cubans who are interviewed blame Nicaragua or accuse the authorities of Costa Rica of mishandling their case. Very few point to the real culprit of the crisis: the autocracy of the Castro brothers.

In passing, they allege that they left Cuba because of its precarious economy and a future labeled with question marks. But still, so far from their homeland, the fear and the inner police that many Cubans carry inside prevent them from speaking freely before the cameras.

If the worst happens and they must return to the island, they say, the government may retaliate. And so they establish a pact of silence. Which very few break.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz