By Isaac Risco
HAVANA TIMES — The governments of the United States and Cuba showed their differences today on migration issues in the opening day of negotiations characterized by both sides as “productive” and “constructive”. The talks come after the historic announcement of diplomatic rapprochement in December, reported dpa.
High-ranking delegations from both countries met today at the Havana Convention Center for the start of a two-day dialogue that seeks to draw up a roadmap for the restoration of diplomatic relations, broken off by the US in 1961.
Today’s talks focused on migration issues, an area in which both countries brought out their differences despite the current political thaw.
“The fact that the talks have been productive with a collaborative spirit proves that even though there are differences and that they remain, the US and Cuba can find opportunities to work on issues of mutual interest,” said negotiator Alex Lee, who headed the US delegation on Wednesday.
US policy for Cubans fleeing the island and who manage to arrive illegally to the United States remains intact, said Lee.
“We explained to the Cuban government that my government is fully committed to maintaining the Cuban Adjustment Act and policies related to migration issues, which are commonly referred to as the “wet foot, dry foot,” provision, he said.
Both standards “continue to guide the US immigration policy toward Cuba,” said Lee, on the guidelines governing the entry of Cuban immigrants to the United States for decades.
The Havana government meanwhile reiterated his criticism of both policies which it says encourage illegal emigration and “brain drain.”
The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 and the wet foot, dry foot norm of 1995, allows Cubans who reach American soil to obtain permanent residence (green card) after a year and a day, despite having entered the United States irregularly.
Those standards “continue to be the main stimulus of illegal emigration from Cuba and illegal entrance to the US from third countries,” said the chief Cuban negotiator, Josefina Vidal. She also criticized the US government for encouraging Cubans working on missions in other countries to abandon their work, especially doctors.
“It is a reprehensible practice of brain drain that makes many countries lose vital human resources, something that goes against the migratory agreements,” said Vidal. The island has tens of thousands of doctors and other health personnel working in missions in Latin America and Africa.
Both parties, however, indicated they will continue the periodic migration talks first celebrated after signing an agreement on the matter in 1994, regardless of diplomatic negotiations. “It’s an issue we have been discussing for many years,” said Vidal.
Talks to guarantee a safe and legal migration “is consistent with our interests to promote greater freedom and greater respect for human rights in Cuba,” Lee said for his part. The latest round of migration talks was held in mid-2014 in Washington. The current round, scheduled for some time, was taken advantage of this time to initiate diplomatic negotiations.
Roberta Jacobson, assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department, arrived to Havana on Wednesday. She will lead the US delegation on Thursday in the key phase of dialogue in Havana. Jacobson is the highest US official to visit the island in decades.