Renewed Migration Talks Fruitful, U.S., Cuba Say

Renewed Migration Talks 'Fruitful,' U.S., Cuba Say

The Latin American Herald Tribune (Caracas, Venezuela), July 16, 2009

New York — Representatives of the United States and Cuba agreed that their first talks since 2003 to analyze immigration questions were 'fruitful.'

'The United States views these talks as a venue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation' of bilateral immigration accords signed in the mid-1990s, the State Department said after the meeting in New York.

On the Cuban side, Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez proposed holding the next round of immigration talks in December in Havana.

'Weve had a fruitful working session that validates the utility of the mechanism of these rounds to evaluate the course of the immigration accords. Cuba is rigorously fulfilling its commitment to the letter and spirit of the immigration accords,' said Rodriguez in a press communique released in New York.

Cuba is one of the few countries in the world to require that its citizens obtain official permission to emigrate or travel abroad, and the pacts signed by Washington and Havana in 1994 and 1995 aimed to put the brakes on clandestine emigration from the communist-ruled island. The accords called for bilateral meetings every six months to review their implementation and various technical matters.

But the last session prior to Tuesday was in 2003, the year before the Bush administration formally suspended the discussions as part of a tightening of Washingtons 47-year-old economic embargo against Cuba.

The meeting on Tuesday served to 'advance the identification of areas' in which both parties must 'work and cooperate to guarantee the fulfillment of these accords and we proposed to reach a new agreement on immigration matters,' said the Cuban representative.

President Barack Obama has been trying to improve relations with Cuba since he moved into the White House at the beginning of this year, and in April, he lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans travel and remittances to the communist-ruled island.

The president has also said, however, that he will not end the embargo until Havana releases political prisoners and carries out democratic reforms.

On Wednesday, Obama formally informed legislators of his intention to suspend for an additional six months the controversial Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

Title III, which permits legal actions to be brought against firms trafficking in confiscated properties in Cuba and otherwise penalizes third-country businesses that violate the acts provisions, drew criticism from U.S. allies when it was first introduced.

In its final form, the law requires the president to either waive or enforce Title III provisions every six months, and Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush routinely extended the waiver.

In referring to the course of Tuesdays exchange, Rodriguez expressed his 'concern' about achieving the objectives of the immigration accords 'while the Cuban Adjustment Act exists in the U.S.,' a measure which treats undocumented Cuban migrants with a leniency not extended to other nationalities.

Under Washingtons 'wet foot, dry foot' policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are permitted to remain and become legal residents, while the vast majority of those intercepted at sea are sent back to the island.

Rodriguez said that approach 'stimulates illegal departures and the smuggling of people by offering differentiated treatment to Cubans who arrive illegally in U.S. territory.'

The U.S. delegation, headed by the principle deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Craig Kelly, issued at the end of the meeting a communique in which he reaffirmed the 'U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration.'

'Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern,' State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.

'The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the accords,' he said.

U.S. priorities in the immigration area includes, Kelly said, 'ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively.'

Cuba and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the early 1960s, but the two governments established interests sections in the respective capitals during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.

The Interests Section in Havana processes applications from Cubans seeking the 20,000 residence visas the United States is supposed to issue every year under the bilateral migration accords.

Other priorities emphasized by the United States at the meeting were, Kelly said, 'ensuring that the American consular staff at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana are able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of all Cuban nationals who are excludable on criminal grounds.'