MEXICO CITY (AP) — El Salvador’s government has started charging travelers from dozens of countries who travel through the country’s main airport a $1,130 fee, as the U.S. faces pressure to help control the to help migration flows to the southern border.
According to El Salvador’s aviation authority, citizens of 57 mostly African countries and India have had to pay the fee since the end of October.
Aviation officials did not say whether the measure was aimed at reducing migration, describing the tariff as an “airport improvement fee.” However, the government of El Salvador acknowledged an increase in the number of travelers from these countries this year. The USA is also putting pressure on Central American countries to curb the flow of migrants to the border with Mexico. U.S. authorities say they stopped migrants there more than two million times in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
El Salvador’s aviation authority said most passengers who must pay the fee fly to Nicaragua on commercial airline Avianca. Because of its lax visa requirements, Nicaragua is a transit country for migrants from Haiti and Cuba as well as Africa trying to reach the United States
Earlier this year, for example, U.S. officials were surprised to see an increase in the number of Mauritanian migrants arriving at the southern border. No natural disaster, coup, or sudden economic collapse could explain this. Rather, travel agencies and social media influencers promoted a multi-stage journey that took migrants from the West African country to Nicaragua.
A Senegalese migrant’s flight path seen by The Associated Press showed the migrant passed through Morocco, Spain and El Salvador before landing in Managua. The final two legs took place on board Avianca flights.
Both El Salvador’s aviation authority and immigration authorities said they had no data on how many migrants from the listed countries had passed through the country this year.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to say whether the U.S. had demanded the fee. But the ability to help the U.S. control migration could be a political boon for El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele as he seeks re-election despite a constitutional ban and faces scrutiny over his human rights record.
During President Donald Trump’s term, curbing migration was a top priority in U.S. policy toward El Salvador, and Bukele heard no public criticism from the U.S. as he began consolidating his power. Under President Joe Biden, the United States has openly criticized Bukele’s record on democracy and human rights.
The US State Department claimed that Bukele’s war against powerful street gangs resulted in “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other related abuses” for tens of thousands of people detained. His government is also cracking down on journalists, activists and critics.
But migration now appears to be back at the top of the two countries’ bilateral agenda as Biden also seeks re-election.
While the Biden administration has said that Central American countries “need to do more” to control migration, not all of them have welcomed the request with open arms.
“Most governments have recognized that migration is of clear interest to the United States, and that is why it is becoming a bargaining chip,” said Pamela Ruiz, Central America analyst at the International Crisis Group. “They either become partners or adversaries on this issue.”
Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador have worked with the United States to open centers for migrants seeking asylum, family reunification or temporary work permits.
On the other hand, in recent months Nicaragua has opened its doors to hundreds of charter flights carrying tens of thousands of Cuban and Haitian migrants to the United States.
The flights – which one analyst described as Nicaragua’s “weaponization of migration as a foreign policy” – were met with a stark warning from the Biden administration.
“We are examining the full spectrum of possible consequences for those who enable this form of irregular migration,” Brian A. Nichols, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, this month. The Haitian government announced that charter flights would be temporarily suspended.
As Bukele has come under renewed criticism in recent weeks as he seeks re-election in 2024, the Biden administration has been cautious in its statements.
“There needs to be a broad debate about the legality and legitimacy of the elections, but it is a debate for Salvadorans,” Nichols said during a recent visit to El Salvador and before a meeting with Bukele.
The comments contrasted sharply with condemnations of “anti-democratic behavior” in elections in neighboring Guatemala months earlier.
Bukele “is willing to cooperate on immigration by banning certain nationalities and charging them a ridiculous fee to avoid criticism at the international level,” Crisis Group’s Ruiz said. “Part of me wonders…we’re not going to criticize the Bukele government so much for supposedly reducing the number of migrants?”
Associated Press writer Marcos Alemán in San Salvador, El Salvador contributed to this report.
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Source : apnews.com