We’ve just crossed from Guatemala into Mexico.
It’s steaming hot but the 180 Cubans who have just made it here are used to the heat and they couldn’t be happier.
Who cares that they rode almost 12 hours on a bus from El Salvador to Mexico? Who cares that they don’t know their next move? Who cares that they don’t handle Mexican spicy food that well? All that matters is that they are closer to their final goal: the US border.
They are part of the first test run of a charter flight and bus trip organised by Central American countries and the International Organisation of Migration.
Nearly 8,000 Cuban migrants have been stuck in Costa Rica since November 15 when Nicaragua – an ally of Cuba – closed its border to the migrants.
Dayami Blanco teared up after talking to family on a reporter’s phone.
Joined by her husband, she is now scrambling to find cheap flights north to the United States border.
As Cubans, they have the rare privilege of being able to enter the US and start a process that could lead to permanent residence. No other foreign nationals can just show up like that at the US border and get in the door.
David Morales, El Salvador’s prosecutor for Human Rights, said that he favoured this “humanitarian corridor” but added that the crisis was a result of a “double standard” in US policy that makes it easier for Cubans to enter the US.
The privilege isn’t lost on the Cubans. They know that migrants from some Central American countries live in much more violent conditions and face many more hurdles getting to the US.
But the Cubans feel it’s justified.
“No one else lives in a dictatorship like we do,” said Janet Segue, when I met her at a migrant shelter in Costa Rica last month. She wasn’t on the first flight, but she is five months pregnant and wants to have her baby in the US.
“I hope my baby will thank me one day for that,” she said.
All the Cubans we met toss around phrases like “a better life,” the “American dream,” a “brighter future” with total sincerity.
But we also realise that some people fleeing war-like levels of violence in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador have dreams too – sometimes only of survival.