MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The wait is over for thousands of Cuban refugees who have been stuck in Costa Rica for the last couple of months.
On Wednesday, the first 180 of the 8,000 migrants were airlifted to El Salvador and then traveled by bus to Guatemala.
The migrants journey north was halted last November when Nicaragua, an ally of Cuba, closed their border to them. Most Cubans came to Panama and Costa Rica via a longtime air bridge through Ecuador, before that South American country began demanding visas for Cubans in December.
This month, the three Central American nations and Mexico reached an agreement on an air bridge to get around Nicaragua’s refusal to let the Cubans through.
The migrants appeared to get special treatment along the way: They were greeted by El Salvador’s foreign minister upon their arrival in that country even as, when they got to the Guatemalan border, they saw a busload of Salvadoran migrants headed the other way after being deported back to their home country from the United States.
The Cubans won’t have to worry about that since U.S. immigration policy that allows them to stay if they reach the United States. That special status initially raised some resentment in Central America, whose citizens are often deported from the U.S. if they enter without visas.
But the Cubans’ trip was so far smooth. Private, chartered transportation and transit visas had already been arranged for them.
Four rented buses brought the Cubans to the Pedro de Alvarado crossing on Guatemala’s border with El Salvador. Human rights activists accompanied them.
Lislenia Fernandez, who traveled to Costa Rica with her husband, hopes to get to Miami where her brother-in-law lives. The couple had to leave behind her sons aged 4 and 8.
“We are going to look for a way to bring them over.”
Ruben Chil Cruz, who left his wife and two children behind in Cuba, said he didn’t plan to use a smuggler to cross Mexico and hoped Mexican immigration officials at the border could give him advice on how to travel to the U.S. border. From there, he said, he plans to travel to Miami.
But he expected the trip to be quick. “I think I will get to the United States by Sunday,” he said.
There has been an exodus of migrants from Cuba in recent months after the communist-run country loosened requirements for leaving. Many potential migrants in Cuba are also worried that the re-establishment of relations between the United States and Raul Castro’s government could their privileged immigration treatment in the United States.
Click here to read more about U.S.- Cuba Relations.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)