January 13, 2016 / 5:03 AM / in 3 years

First group of stranded Cuban migrants leaves Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - A first group of 180 Cubans chosen from thousands stranded in Costa Rica boarded a flight to El Salvador on Tuesday as part of a pilot program agreed by Central America countries last year to allow the migrants to continue toward the United States.

An estimated 8,000 Cubans have been stuck in limbo along Costa Rica’s northern border with Nicaragua, since Nicaragua in November shut its borders, saying that Costa Rica had sparked a “humanitarian crisis” after Costa Rica issued transit visas to more than 1,000 Cubans.

“The pilot operation ... has been successful so far,” said Costa Rica’s foreign minister, Manuel Gonzalez.

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras will meet next week to evaluate the first trip, Gonzalez said.

“We would hope ... that maybe about a week after (that meeting) we can put this plan into effect daily.”

Costa Rica is hoping to run at least two flights a day, he said.

The flow of migrants from Cuba has surged as the process of a detente between Washington and Havana stirs fears that preferential U.S. asylum rights for Cubans may soon end.

Central American countries last month agreed to a pilot program to start allowing the migrants to move toward the United States.

Reporting by George Rodriguez; Writing by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Robert Birsel

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