United States Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a veteran Florida Republican who is Chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is not happy about the treatment received by hundreds of Cuban immigrants at the hands of Nicaraguan Army soldiers yesterday at the northern border of Costa Rica.
Ros-Lehtinen went on Marti Noticias, an independent news outlet that broadcasts news related to Cuba, and explained that she felt the Government of Nicaragua should not use military force against Cubans who are not armed. The politically-charged incident unfolded yesterday as more than a thousand Cuban immigrants making their way towards the United States reached the Peñas Blancas border after Costa Rica granted them a week-long transit visa.
Various television news networks such as Teletica and Repretel from Costa Rica broadcast images of disorder and violence at the border yesterday. A wave of Cuban immigrants, who were not allowed to enter Nicaragua by immigration officers, knocked down a gate and flanked a Nicaraguan Army squad equipped and armed with a light tactical load. In this fashion, dozens of Cubans rushed into Nicaragua under the watchful eye of officers from Fuerza Publica, the national police force of Costa Rica.
More soldiers intercepted the Cubans and fought them back, reportedly with tear gas. At that moment, the aforementioned light infantry squad came closer to the border and stood in column formation with their Chinese AK-47 variants at bear arms. Fuerza Publica officers responded by donning riot gear with helmets and shields but without weapons, getting into a crowd control formation, and urging the immigrants to stand behind them. The Cubans were now protected while the security forces from Nicaragua and Costa Rica stood and stared silently for about an hour as the TV news crews filmed. Later, more Nicaraguan soldiers arrived, pushing and shoving more Cubans back to Costa Rica.
By the time afternoon rains pelted Guanacaste, a platoon-sized force of Nicaraguan soldiers equipped with a heavier tactical load, with inserted magazines and wearing Kevlar helmets, loosely assembled around the Peñas Blancas checkpoint and immigration building, which became strewn with trash and debris as the rejected Cuban migrants became agitated and angry.
Unlike the Nicaraguan squad that got into a staring match with the unarmed Fuerza Publica officers around lunchtime, the platoon-sized reinforcements seemed to be an undisciplined bunch and did not adhere to any tactical formations; they mostly ambled and smoked, and some of them taunted obscenities across the border while the Cubans took photos (such as the one above) with their smartphones. The Fuerza Publica officers rested their unarmed formations and shifted them from column to wedge while their partners rounded up the Cubans who were being returned and made arrangements for temporary shelters in the Santa Cruz canton.
In the past, Nicaragua was a “third country” where Cubans could be deported to if they did not want to return to Cuba; once in Nicaragua, they usually continued north. In this case, however, less than a handful of them want to stay in Costa Rica; pretty much all of them want to reach the U.S. under the “dry foot” policy that allows them certain asylum benefits. Many of these Cubans settle in Representative Ros-Lehtinen’s constituent district in South Florida.
Costa Rica plans to appeal to the Organization of American States as to this new course of action taken by Nicaragua.