The Panamanian government is offering 126 Cuban migrants stranded in the country a chance to return to Cuba and become self-employed entrepreneurs. In exchange, the migrants will receive multiple-entry visas to Panama and an undetermined amount of capital for investment purposes.
The proposal was announced by Panama’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Jonathan del Rosario last week. He said Panama has done “everything possible” to help the migrants. This proposal would only apply to the Cubans stranded in Gualaca in western Panama. Del Rosario made it clear that the migrants in Gualaca won’t be allowed to remain in Panamanian territory.
“We have been very frank. Their entry into the country in an irregular manner makes it impossible for them to qualify for any type of immigration status in Panama other than refugee status,” del Rosario said, according to the Miami Herald.
The Cubans became stranded in the country following the end of the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy. They were on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border when the Obama administration announced the end of the policy on January 14.
“Wet foot, dry foot” is a relic of the Clinton administration. It allowed Cubans who managed to reach U.S. soil (‘dry feet’) to stay and apply for residency after one year. Migrants who were caught at sea (‘wet feet’) were sent back to Cuba. Ending the policy was one of key changes former President Obama made to U.S.-Cuba relations.
“We are doing the budget consultations and, of course, we have not done it behind the backs of the government of Cuba,” del Rosario added. “We did not take them to Gualaca to deceive them. The range of options we have is not very wide and the countries we have consulted are not welcoming migrants.”
The Panamanian government is reportedly determined to resolve the Cuban migrant problem within three months, and the proposal is one of the few solutions available. It would grant multiple-entry visas to Cuban entrepreneurs who decide to return and buy products from Panamanian markets.
The offer is not available to the thousands of Cuban migrants who refused to go to the Guacala shelter as ordered by Panama’s government. They will be deported if arrested by authorities. According to figures from the General Directorate of Migration, there are almost 40,000 undocumented Cubans in the country.
“If not Donald Trump, we hope that the Cuban community in Miami will flex its muscle, that someone will help us because none of us left Cuba to stay in Panama or be relocated in Australia,” a migrant identified as Yelisvaris Pargas told the Herald. “Our goal is to reach the United States.”
Several of the migrants were opposed to the proposal because businesses in Cuba are controlled by the government, and the Castro regime does not support private initiatives. But they don’t have a lot of options—Panama signed an agreement with Cuba in March following the end of “wet foot, dry foot” and almost 100 migrants have since been sent back to the island. This proposal is the Panamanian government’s way of amicably resolving a problem that can’t be go on forever.