US says committed to ‘constructive discussions’ with Cuba

Photo by Aditya Vyas

25 April 2022

Cuban and US officials have met in Washington to discuss the implementation of the US-Cuba Migration Accords. The State Department described the meeting as a demonstration of its commitment to constructive discussions with Cuba. 

The exchanges, the first since 2018, came against a background of surging migration, with around 80,000 irregular Cuban migrants arriving at the Mexico-US border in the last six months and about 1,400 being stopped at sea by the US coastguard.

The one-day meeting between teams led by US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Emily Mendrala, and Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, saw the US issue a short neutral statement indicating that the focus had been on “areas of successful cooperation on migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to fulfilling the goals of the Accords”. 

More notably, the State Department added: “Engaging in these talks underscores our commitment to pursuing constructive discussions with the Government of Cuba where appropriate to advance US interests.” 

In contrast, the Cuban Foreign Ministry (Minrex) indicated that at the meeting it had reiterated its concern about measures taken by the US government which it said were stimulating migration, preventing legal and orderly migration, and generating difficult socioeconomic conditions through the strengthening of the embargo. The measures it said were resulting in the loss of life, migrant smuggling, immigration fraud, and human trafficking, affecting both Cuba and the US, and countries in the region. 

Minrex noted that at the meeting its delegation had “insisted on the obligation of the US government to guarantee the issuance in Havana of no less than 20,000 annual visas for Cubans to emigrate to the United States”, a commitment it said had been breached since 2017. There was it said no justification in continuing to force would be legal migrants to travel to Guyana to have their visa applications processed.

Cuba also called on the US to halt its encouragement of third nations to require transit visas. This it said was “hindering and violating the rights of Cubans to travel to third countries in the area.”

Speaking to the media while the meeting was continuing, the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said that the talks provided “an opportunity for important discussions on mutual compliance with migration accords and the commitment of the United States and Cuba to safe, legal, and orderly migration.” He said that they would address irregular migration, compliance with US immigration law, migration by land and sea, migration trends, returns and the repatriation of Cuban citizens, embassy functions, and related issues. 

Asked by journalists whether the talks would cover other issues, Price said that they were “focused squarely on migration.” 

Before the meeting, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, had said that Washington will seek the reactivation of migratory agreements. “I am not going to anticipate the dialogue, but we have had migration agreements with Cuba for many years. These are discontinued and we are going to explore the possibility of reactivating them,” Mayorkas told a meeting in Panama City on the causes of the growth in irregular migration.

The Centre for Democracy in the Americas, where Mendrala previously was a director, noted in a statement after the talks: “We encourage the Administration to continue engaging on issues of mutual concern in order to advance US interests” and “reduce further suffering.” By contrast, Republican US Representatives for South Florida, Mario Díaz-Balart, María Elvira Salazar, and Carlos Gimenez, wrote to US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, condemning the talks and suggesting that they legitimised an “illegitimate dictatorship.”

On 5 April President Díaz-Canel, quoting Fidel Castro, suggested that Cuba should not be afraid of entering into a dialogue with the US. He Tweeted: “Fidel: It is not necessary to emphasise what Cuba has always said: we are not afraid of dialoguing with the United States. We do not need confrontation to exist either, as some fools think; we exist… because we believe in our ideas, and we have never been afraid of dialoguing with the adversary. 5/4/2009″. (See Cuba Briefing 11 April 2022)

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