US offers to resume migration talks with Cuba

ASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States, in another move aimed at thawing relations with Cuba, has offered to resume migration talks with the communist-ruled island almost six years after they were suspended.

“We intend to use the renewal of talks to reaffirm both sides’ commitment to face legal and orderly migration,” a State Department official told AFP Friday.

The official, who asked not to be named, said Washington hoped the talks would “improve operational relations with Cuba on migration issues.”

The United States and Cuba had carried out discussions on the thorny issue every two years until they were suspended in 2003 by former president George W. Bush.

There was no immediate official public reaction in Havana, nor from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

But Cuba has longstanding interest in seeing migration dialogue progress. The Caribbean nation of more than 11 million is bothered by embarrassing illegal emigration by Cubans across the shark-infested Florida Straits.

And Havana — the Americas’ only one-party communist regime faced with more than a decade of economic crisis — has long argued the United States should increase its number of standard legal immigration visas for Cubans.

It opposes the US policy of granting immediate residency to any Cuban who reaches US soil, saying that it can encourage Cubans to make potentially deadly bids to leave Cuba by sea.

Washington is trying to facilitate reunification of Cubans who want to leave the country with kin in the United States, mainly in South Florida.

Since coming to office in January, US President Barack Obama has moved to repair ties with Cuban President Raul Castro, who officially took over the reins from older brother Fidel last year.

In April, Obama lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba.

The new US administration has also acknowledged Washington’s Cuba policy has been a failure, but Obama has said he will not, for now, seek to end the 47-year-old economic embargo on Cuba, instead urging Havana to show progress on human rights. Cuba says the United States has human rights problems of its own, and demands non-interference from what it calls “the imperial power.”

Raul Castro, for his part, said last month that Cuba will not make symbolic “gestures” to please the United States, putting the onus of improving bilateral relations squarely on Washington.

Cuban-American lawmakers from both parties immediately criticized the latest US expression of readiness to resume migration talks.

“This constitutes another unilateral concession by the Obama administration to the dictatorship,” Florida lawmakers Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

Republican Senator Mel Martinez, also of Florida, was critical as well: “The US suspended talks due to the Castro regime’s refusal to comply with critical elements of the Migration Accords.

“The administration should insist on the regime’s full compliance with the Migration Accords before re-opening formal talks.”

The 1995 Cuba-US Migration Accord between Havana and Washington says Cuban migrants to the United States who are intercepted at sea should be sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to US soil should be allowed to stay in the United States.

The Florida lawmakers say Havana violates the accord by “denying hundreds of exit permits” each year to Cuban nationals who have received visas to enter the United States. Many Cubans, who earn an average of under 20 dollars a month, complain that they are required to put forth hundreds of dollars each to obtain passports and “exit visas” from the Cuban government.

Senator Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey, said the Obama administration “gesture will probably be well-received by the Castro brothers since it provides them with a perception of legitimacy and gives them the attention they seek.

“The administration is missing opportunities to make real change in Cuba by not conditioning this type of opportunity on the regime acting to stop denying its citizens exit visas and charging exorbitant amounts of those who they chose to let exit.”

Fidel Castro, the 82-year-old leader of the Cuban revolution who came to power in 1959, led the island until February 2008 when he officially handed power to his brother Raul, now 77.

www.particularcuba.com

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Particular Cuba organizes travel to Cuba. Hotel booking, car rental, package tours, excursions, flights to Cuba.

5 Responses to US offers to resume migration talks with Cuba

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