Cuba and US Hold Dialogue on Migration in New York

By Dialogo
July 16, 2009

NEW YORK, 14 July 2009 (AFP) - The United States and Cuba, which have shown timid signs of a thaw in their relations since President Barack Obama took office, resumed a dialogue on migration issues that had been suspended since 2003 in New York on Tuesday. During the meeting, the United States and Cuba committed to promoting “safe, orderly, and legal” migration, as the State Department and the Cuban chancellory indicated in separate statements. The diplomatic talks that were held twice a year at a technical level -- alternating between the United States and Cuba -- had been suspended since the period of tension with George W. Bush’s administration. The dialogue was broken off by the United States. At the time, Cuba was also afraid of an American military invasion, as President Raúl Castro later revealed to the Nacional Defense Council. After arriving at the White House, Obama sent a friendly signal to the island in April when he authorized U.S. citizens of Cuban ancestry to travel and send money to Cuba. Subsequently, the State Department indicated that representatives of both countries had opened unofficial discussions with the aim of trying to relaunch the dialogue on migration issues. Nevertheless, despite this rapprochement, both Washington and Havana continued to signal their mutual distrust, each side waiting for gestures from the other before moving forward. The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, recently reiterated that the United States will not lift the embargo it has imposed on the island for almost half a century if Cuba does not release its political prisoners and respect human rights. The anti-Castro exile community in Florida, the influence of which has declined in recent years, calls on Washington to keep up pressure for democratic change in Cuba and considers the migration dialogue to be an incentive in the opposite direction. According to the State Department, upon resuming the migration meetings on Tuesday, the United States reaffirmed its interest in “pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba” on matters of common interest. Regular talks began in 1995 to coordinate measures intended to avoid mass Cuban emigration to the country to the north. The United States committed to granting around 20,000 annual visas to Cubans, and Cuba agreed to take back and not take reprisals against individuals who attempted to escape from the island and were captured at sea by the American coast guard. In New York, the Cuban delegation indicated in a statement that it “presented a proposal for a new accord to the American side,” without specifying the proposal’s content. The Obama administration, for its part, specified that it addressed with the Cuban representatives not only points of “successful cooperation,” but also the “obstacles to the full implementation of the accords.” Washington identified assurances for the full functioning of its interests section in Havana, access to a deep-water port for repatriating migrants, assurances of their welfare, and the ability to return migrants with a criminal background as among its priorities. “The United States views these talks as a venue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the accords and to the safety of our citizens.” The U.S. delegation was headed by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Craig Kelly. The Cuban delegation was headed by the Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations, Dagoberto Martínez. “We had a productive working session that validates the usefulness of the mechanism,” Martínez said.
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