By Marianela Jimenez|
Associated Press Writer
Monday, January 8, 2001; 2:06 PM
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica A boat packed with 22 Cubans seeking political asylum in Costa Rica has arrived at the Central American nation, the first to come here from the communist country in four years.
Officials said the group between the ages of 14 and 60 came ashore late Saturday on a stretch of Caribbean coast near Limon, 80 miles east of San Jose, the capital. Police discovered the refugees on Sunday.
Immigration officials were to interview the 17 men and five women formally on Monday. Carlos Alvarado, a Costa Rican foreign relations adviser, talked briefly with the group on Sunday and said it was made up of a family and several friends.
Cuba sent a note to Costa Rica claiming the fishing boat belonged to the government and had been stolen, Costa Rican Security Minister Rogelio Ramos said. The boat has a capacity of 15 people.
It left Cuba on Dec. 29, stopping at the island of San Andres to refuel and then traveling on to Costa Rica.
On Sunday, all of the Cubans were given food and medical treatment.
The last time Costa Rica received a boat carrying Cuban refugees was in 1996. In that case, the government agreed to give the refugees visas.
Cuba's communist government says the vast majority of Cubans who leave the country illegally by boat are economic migrants rather than political refugees, no different from the thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans who cross the U.S. border illegally in search of work.