Cuba, US immigration talks set to take place in Havana in February

News from Cuba | Saturday, 30 January 2010

from the Associated press

Cuba wants to negotiate an agreement with the United States to slow the trafficking of its citizens fleeing the island and hopes to tackle the issue during immigration talks rescheduled for next month, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Bruno Rodriguez said negotiators will meet February 19 in Havana and Cuba wants Washington's help in combating people smuggling, often carried out by gangs with souped-up speed boats that ferry Cubans out of the country. While some head for Florida, most arrive on the Caribbean coast of Mexico or Central America and make their way north to the US, where they usually are allowed to stay.

"Part of the Cuban agenda presented to the Government of the United States is a proposal for a new immigration agreement and solidifying co-operation in the fight against people trafficking," Rodriguez said.

Under US law, Cubans captured at sea are usually deported, while those who reach American soil can apply for residency, making Mexico an attractive route. Cuba has long denounced Washington's so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy as encouraging illegal immigration.

Rodriguez said the United States has yet to respond to Cuba's proposals, however, and a spokeswoman at the US Interests Section in Havana, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations, said Thursday that Washington has not yet finalised an exact date for the talks.

Biannual discussions between the US and Cuba were limited to immigration from 1994 until they were cancelled under President George W Bush in 2003. They began anew in New York in July, and both sides called that session positive.

But a second round of discussions planned for December was pushed back.

Looming over the encounter was the arrest of a US Government contractor who was detained in Cuba in December for allegedly distributing prohibited satellite communications equipment.

Cuba accused him of being a spy, which was denied by US officials who said he was not working with groups opposed to the communist Government but with a religious and cultural organisation.

Rodriguez said that under American law, the detainee "would at least be considered an agent of a foreign power".

"Evidently the Government of the United States will not quit endorsing the destruction of the Cuban revolution, the political structure of the Government of our country," he said. "In any part of the world that would be a serious crime."

Still, Rodriguez said Cuba has co-ordinated with the US on transporting aid to Haiti, with 60 US flights using airspace in eastern Cuba to reach the quake-devastated country since Havana temporarily opened it to American planes.

"There have been some exchanges between the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba and the State Department on an eventual co-operation in Haiti," he said.

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