Panama reaches deal to send 3,800 US-bound Cubans to Mexico

Cuban migrants in Puerto Obaldia, Panama on May 15, 2015 (AFP Photo/Rodrigo Arangua) (AFP/File)

Panama City (AFP) - Panama has reached a deal to transfer nearly 4,000 US-bound Cubans stranded on its territory to Mexico, an official said on Sunday, but added the flights would not be extended to future Cuban migrants.

"Panama will transfer some 3,800 Cubans to Mexico after an agreement with that country," the Panamanian official told AFP on condition of anonymity because details were not to be released until Monday.

The official said daily flights would begin on Monday from Panama City's international airport, going to Juarez, in Mexico's north near the US border.

Each planeload would carry 154 Cubans who would pay the cost of the trip themselves.

They have been blocked in Panama since March.

The next two Central American countries to the north of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, have since late last year closed their borders to Cubans trying to head north overland.

Between January and March, Costa Rica oversaw flights for thousands of Cubans to El Salvador and Mexico to clear a backlog of the migrants who had become stuck by Nicaragua's border closure.

Panama in March did likewise, organizing flights to Juarez for 1,300 Cubans. Officials back then insisted the operation would not be repeated.

But since then, thousands more have arrived, aiming to get to the US, where a law dating back to the Cold War gives them privileged entry and a fast track to residency.

Many Cubans risk a perilous trip through South and Central America because the United States seeks to throw back to Cuba any found crossing by sea to Florida.

Panama's foreign minister, Isabel De Saint Malo, has called Costa Rica and Nicaragua's position "contradictory."

But as a result, she said, her country now believes it has also become necessary for it to close off access to Cubans "to discourage the flow of migrants."