Ecuador: No Airlift for U.S.-bound Cubans

By Kausha Luna on July 8, 2016

During a press conference on Tuesday, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador said that his country will not participate in the illegal migration of Cubans by providing them with an airlift to Mexico.

The press conference took place after the government of Ecuador and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees signed a cooperation agreement concerning the treatment of applications for refugee status in the country.

Ecuador finds itself to be the latest host of Cuban nationals hoping to reach the United States and take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act and "wet foot, dry foot" policy. The backlog of Cubans has been shifting southward since Nicaragua closed its border in November, while Costa Rica and Panama followed suit in the following months.

In response to the increasing flows of Cuban migrants, Ecuador reinstated a visa requirement for Cuban nationals on December 1, 2015, which had been eliminated in 2008.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long called the situation "sui generis" and "a little unusual." In relation to the Cuban migrants he said, "They are not asking to stay in Ecuador. They are asking to travel to the United States, particularly via Mexico. So they are asking the Mexican government to extend them a visa to travel and to go to the United States. They are openly saying that they want to go to the United States."

The minister continued, "They are even asking for an air transfer, some spoke of several tens or hundreds of flights…Clearly, well, the Ecuadorian government cannot be involved in this illegal migration through smuggling people or being involved in smuggling by providing planes." Minister Long went on to criticize the Cuban Adjustment Act as the cause for increasing flows of Cuban migration. Consequently, the minister stated that the government of Ecuador is, "once again interpellating the U.S. government and Congress to put an end to this type of policy, which hurts us."

Hundreds of Cubans in Ecuador have gathered outside different embassies to demand a visa and airlift to Mexico – as was done for thousands of Cubans in Costa Rica and Panama earlier this year—so they can continue to the United States. It is estimated that there are approximately 5,000 Cubans waiting to be airlifted out of Ecuador.

The number of Cuban aliens arriving at U.S. Ports of Entry, without visas, has been growing since FY 2009, reaching 43,154 in FY 2015. As of February 24, the number for the current fiscal year (25,806 Cuban aliens) had exceeded the total number for FY 2014 (24,277). However, the Obama administration has made it clear that it has no intention of changing the current immigration policies towards Cubans.