Daniel Ortega’s new order to give free visas to Cubans who want to reach the country, not only opens the borders of Nicaragua to the islanders who arrive for “shopping tourism,” but it could exacerbate the migratory crisis facing the United States, he values. a migration specialist. This open-door policy shortens the land route that thousands of Cubans have traveled so far to reach US soil irregularly in search of the “American dream.”
For his part, the Republican senator for Florida, Marco Rubio, cataloged the decision of the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo to establish a “free visa” for all Cuban citizens who wish to enter Nicaragua, in order “to promote exchange commercial, tourism and humanitarian family relationship ”as a“ hostile act ”.
Although Ortega’s current strategy is not clear – who in the past relaxed visa requirements for Cubans to stimulate the flow of travelers to the country in the midst of the pandemic to do a type of tourism that would inject foreign currency into the clothing trade economy. , footwear and electronic items and personal use, goods in high demand and desired by Cubans for self-consumption and sale – the international political climate after the questioned and considered illegitimate elections where he was proclaimed president for the fourth consecutive term, fuels tensions and puts in check a delicate diplomatic, political and commercial relationship with the United States.
Rubio considers and warns that the Ortega regime “is helping the Cuban dictatorship to eliminate visa requirements to instigate mass migration to our southern border,” due to facilitating the route that thousands of Cubans who seek to enter the United States travel so far . He believes that the “free visa” for Cubans increases their chances of reaching US soil.
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The US senator urged the Joe Biden government to respond immediately: “This summer I expressed my concern and warned that the Cuban regime would use mass migration as a weapon after the historic July 11 protests. The Biden administration must respond quickly and take this for what it is: a hostile act, “said Rubio in statements to Univision.
Republican congresswoman María Elvira Salazar, through the Radio Mambí program, said that the Nicaraguan government’s decision seeks to “create chaos on the border,” in an obvious act of revenge.
“This is a new initiative that shows that Daniel (Ortega), very intelligently, is telling Cuba, ‘We are going to create chaos on the border, and I am going to give you the step to do it,'” Salazar said.
Dangerous provocation or desperation to negotiate?
The Ortega regime – through the Ministry of the Interior (Migob) – established that the free visa decision was given due to the high demand for visa applications received by Cuban citizens, with relatives in Nicaragua, to the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners (DGME ). Since January 2019, the regime had made the requirements to travel to Nicaragua more flexible for Cuban citizens, including them in “migratory category B”, which allowed them to obtain a tourist visa for a 30-day stay in Managua.
In the opinion of specialists, this action could have been taken to force the Joe Biden administration to establish some type of negotiation with Nicaragua; or to “punish” her for the recent sanctions she applied to the country after the electoral farce of November 7 took place.
In either case, it is considered risky, since it could worsen the already deteriorated relationships; Since November 2018, President Donald Trump, through an executive order, declared the Ortega regime: “a threat to the national security of the United States.”
“This can be a measure of pressure but also of revenge. And obviously the migration crisis is going to get worse. The first impact would be received by Mexico because it has assumed the role of a military wall on the southern border of the country. But then the problem will be for the United States, ”warns Rubén Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement of Mexico.
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Using irregular migration as a political weapon
In a telephone interview with LA PRENSA, Figueroa explains that in recent years several countries have used the opening of their borders as a measure of pressure to obtain more financial aid; others have done it as political revenge. Ortega could be playing both cards recklessly.
In 2020, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, opened the way for thousands of Syrian refugees, to ask for more economic support from the European Union (EU). Mexico also did so recently, allowing the displacement of some 15,000 Haitian migrants. With this, he pressured the United States to finance the Sembrando Vidas project in Central America. “Then it may be that Daniel Ortega uses the opening of the border to Cubans as political revenge,” says Figueroa.
Eliseo Núñez, a former liberal deputy and analyst who is in exile, agrees with Figueroa that Ortega follows the same script as other countries.
“Indeed that is what he is looking for, he is copying the same policy of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus with the Afghan and Syrian emigrants to pressure Europe. It is the same model, it does not have any change, it is to use emigration as a geopolitical weapon, “says Núñez.
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Another analyst, who prefers to omit his name for fear of retaliation, adds that Ortega could indeed be seeking some kind of negotiation with the Biden administration, since for years he has provided the United States with the service of stopping migration. For him, no Cuban will stay in Nicaragua “enduring hunger”, so he considers that he may seek “to enter into talks.”
In the opinion of the specialists, if the measure were aimed at benefiting specific groups of Cubans who want to visit Nicaragua, it would not have been disclosed as it was done, but would be applied more discreetly. But the truth is that this decision completely reversed the position assumed by Ortega in 2015, when he closed the border to thousands of Cubans who were stranded in Costa Rica, in their attempt to move north; and he expelled almost two thousand who entered the country through the Peñas Blancas border.
But the current “revenge” would be in response to the sanctions that the United States has imposed in the last four years for human rights violations during the public repression that began in 2018; and for those that he recently imposed for the consummation of the electoral farce of November 7. Specialists warn that the Biden administration will not necessarily respond as Ortega wants.
Biden ignored the process with which Ortega intends to stay in power for the fourth consecutive period; and he barred Ortega, his family and all public and municipal officials from entering. There is also the declaration of threat to the national security of that country.
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Danger for Nicaragua and the rest of the region
There is also the possibility that the opening of the border is not limited to Cubans who want to travel to the United States, it could also be to guarantee the arrival of military, paramilitary and health personnel to render their service in the event of a possible crisis.
«It could be to bring these people because Ortega is always thinking that there may be a national uproar. This is dangerous for Nicaraguans because the repression can increase. But also for Central America, because there may be a rout that may resemble Mariel’s, ”says the analyst.
The Mariel exodus was a wave of Cubans that left Puerto Mariel for the United States between April 1980 and October 1981. For the analyst, the current tension that exists in the region may make it attractive for an exodus of people with military training.
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Reduce Cuban crossing and escape valve in protests
In 2019 it was shown that the entry of this type of Cuban travelers does not encourage tourism, but is a palliative for the economy; most of them do so in informal commerce where they do not pay taxes. That year 44,829 Cubans arrived in the country, representing 3.5 percent of all visitors.
According to an analysis carried out by Bloomberg, free entry to Nicaragua opens a new shortcut that will reduce the journey of Cubans trying to reach the United States by thousands of miles. Given the strict requirements imposed by most of the countries in the region, many undertake the journey in South America. But most importantly, it eliminates the risk involved in crossing the dangerous jungle known as the Darien Gap, which connects Colombia with Panama. With this opening, the tour would only include Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
In addition, the measure takes effect at a time when after decades under Castro’s rule, Cubans began to express their discontent. The State responded with a bloody repression that is driving a wave of immigration.
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Favor your Cuban allies
According to statistics from the United States Customs and Border Protection Office, between January and October of this year 39,918 Cubans were arrested while trying to enter that country. The figure is more than three times higher than the 11,522 who tried it in the same period of 2020.
Sebastián Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, told Bloomber that Ortega could be offering a helping hand to an ally who is affected by social unrest.
“The Cuban regime is feeling a lot of pressure from below and they need an escape valve; and Nicaragua may be offering that, a way for Cubans to have access to the United States border, ”Arcos said.