By Silvia Ayuso & Isaac Risco
HAVANA TIMES — In a month’s time, the United States and Cuba will resume the migratory talks suspended about two years ago, a US government source told DPA on Wednesday.
According to the spokesman for Washington’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, William Ostick, the US State Department and Cuban government representatives will meet in the US capital on July 17.
There, the two countries are to resume the talks surrounding the thorny issue of immigration, half a year after Raul Castro’s administration set a historic migratory reform in motion to remove restrictions on international travel by Cubans living on the island.
Home to over 1.5 million people of Cuban origin, the United States is the country with the greatest number of Cuban émigrés in the world. Today it remains the chief destination of Cubans seeking to emigrate.
Washington, however, has shown much caution in its consideration of Cuba’s migratory reforms and whether these can have any type of impact on US laws specifically aimed at Cuban migrants, such as the Cuban Adjustment Act.
This situation, what’s more, will not necessarily be addressed at the bilateral migratory talks to be resumed next month, which will focus on more practical issues, such as the number of travel visas that will be made available to Cubans by the United States and the consular personnel to be posted in Havana and Washington.
The fourth and last round of migratory talks between the two nations took place in Havana in January of 2011. Cuba and the United States had resumed these conversations after Barack Obama took office in 2009, after a six-year hiatus.
The 2011 meeting, however, had been tainted by the incident involving US agent Alan Gross, whose imprisonment in Havana has, over the past two years, become one of the chief obstacles preventing a rapprochement between the island and the United States.
Before these conversations were suspended, Cuba had been seeking a new migratory agreement with the United States to replace the one signed in 1994 following the “rafter-refugee crisis” , when thousands of Cubans arrived at US coasts on makeshift vessels, seeking political asylum.
At the time, the United States agreed to make 20 thousand visas available to Cubans on the island every year in order to encourage organized and lawful travel between the two countries, while Cuba agreed to take in those Cubans repatriated by US authorities without reprisals.
“Continuing to guarantee safe migration between Cuba and the United States is consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and a greater respect towards human rights in Cuba,” the US government source pointed out on explaining the reasons behind these new talks.
That said, the source made it clear that these talks “do not represent a significant change in US policy towards Cuba.”
The remark mirrors one made earlier this week, when the U.S. State Department confirmed that a new 2-day bilateral meeting would be held in Washington to explore the possibility to re-establishing direct correspondence channels between Cuba and the United States, eliminated over fifty years ago.
The fact of the matter is that any gesture towards Cuba that Washington essays is often vehemently condemned by a sizable group of legislators who are opposed to any kind of rapprochement with the island.
Cuban-born Republican Congresswoman for Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who condemned this last meeting before it was even held, is one case in point.
“The regime is once again manipulating the US administration in this game because they want us to lift the blockade and make further concessions,” the legislator stated.
The meeting, which marked the resumption of gatherings that had been suspended in 2009, ended today after a 2-day gathering behind closed doors between State Department and US Postal Service officials and high-ranking Cuban government representatives, led by Jose Cabañas, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
News of the meeting on mail service where divulged yesterday in Havana, which was dubbed “satisfactory” and “worthwhile” by the Cuban delegation. The delegation, however, also stressed the “obstacles” in the way of re-establishing a mail service between the countries, stemming from the embargo which the United States has imposed on Cuba for over fifty years.
This year, Havana set a historic migratory reform in motion to put an end to travel regulations which had restricted travel from the island for decades. Since January, Cubans have been entitled to travel abroad without the need to request special authorization (a document known as the “white card”) or a letter of invitation from a host.
Travel restrictions and the United States’ permissive migratory policies, which entitles all Cubans who set foot on US soil to request political asylum, have sparked off several diplomatic crises between the two nations in the course of recent decades.