Ecuador deported 46 more Cubans on Monday while national and international human rights groups complained that the government is violating national and international law. The deportations were the second in three days as 29 were deported on Friday.
The Cubans are demanding safe passage to Mexico so they can attempt to enter the U.S. The Mexican government says it will not allow them into the country. In addition to the 79 Cubans that have been returned to Cuba, as many as 200 remain in Quito, and their fate is uncertain.
The Cubans fear that the reestablishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will end the “one foot in” rule that allows Cubans to remain in the U.S. once they arrive, no matter the means. Last year, several Central American countries began denying entry to Cubans who planned to travel north to Mexico, then to the U.S. At one point, hundreds of Cubans were detained in Panama and Costa Rica before they were sent home.
Attorneys for the deportees and the Cubans who are still in Quito awaiting passage north claim that Ecuador is fast-tracking deportations and not allowing their clients to exhaust all legal appeals. “The law is being violated,” says Jorge Ramirez, an attorney for a couple deported Saturday. “These people have committed no crimes and they are being denied access to attorneys. They are being denied the right to appeal the deportation orders.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is backing the attorneys’ claims. José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of HRW, says that Ecuador is in violation of international law. “Forcible return of a refugee to a place where his or her life or freedom would be threatened is illegal,” he says. “Ecuador has an obligation to uphold its own due process obligations and allow asylum seekers to have a fair consideration of their claims for protection. Any measure that runs counter these obligations violates fundamental rights and should be strongly condemned by regional governments and the United Nations.”
Ecuador maintains that Cubans are not asylum seekers and that it cannot accommodate large numbers of foreigners who use the country as a transit point. “We will obey the law but we have no intention of becoming another Greece or Turkey, harboring tens-of-thousands of refugees who have no place to go,” says Interior Ministry spokesman Xavier Lasso. “We want to be fair but our obligation to the Ecuadorian people must come first.”