Cuba reaffirms its commitment to regular, safe, and orderly migration

Granma International | Tuesday, 17 January 2017 | Click here for original article

Press conference with Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, MINREX Director General for the United States, at the International Press Centre, Havana, January 12, 2017, “Year 59 of the Revolution”

Josefina Vidal.- Today, January 12, the governments of Cuba and the United States signed a new migration agreement, which went into effect this afternoon.

At this time, this new migration agreement is fully in force.

This Joint Statement reaffirms the interest of both governments in normalising relations, based on the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and the political will to strengthen bilateral ties and establish new understandings on issues of common interest.

In this regard, the agreement recognises the need to facilitate regular migration for the benefit of both countries, to prevent irregular migration and avert dangerous crossings that endanger human life, and to combat violence associated with this phenomenon and related offences, such as the trade and trafficking in persons.

I would now like to give the floor to Gustavo Machín, deputy director general for the United States of the Foreign Ministry, to provide details on the content of this agreement.

Gustavo Machín.- On the bases previously outlined by Josefina, the agreement signed between Cuba and the United States establishes that:

First, the United States will eliminate the “wet-foot/dry foot” policy and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, and the same procedure and migration norms will apply to Cuban citizens as to citizens of other countries, that is to Central Americans, Mexicans, South Americans, the same policy will apply to all.

From this afternoon, the United States pledges to return, and Cuba will receive, all Cuban citizens who are detected by U.S. authorities attempting to enter or remain irregularly in that country in violation of its laws.

The United States will continue to guarantee regular migration from Cuba for a minimum of 20,000 people per year.

The two countries will promote bilateral cooperation to prevent and prosecute those involved in trafficking in persons and crimes associated with migratory movements that jeopardise their national security, including the hijacking of aircraft and vessels.

Cuba will accept persons included on the list of 2,746 Cuban citizens who migrated via the port of Mariel in 1980 and were considered ineligible to remain in the United States, according to the Joint Communiqué of December 14, 1984, and those who can not be returned may be replaced by other persons and returned to Cuba.

Cuba will also consider the return of other cases of Cuban citizens who are currently in the United States and who before this Joint Statement violated the laws of that country and whom the U.S. authorities have determined can not remain in its territory.

The competent authorities of Cuba and the United States will meet periodically to evaluate the progress of the agreements.

Except as provided in this Joint Statement, the other migratory agreements previously reached by Cuba and the United States remain in force, that is, the Joint Communiqués of December 14, 1984 and September 9, 1994, and the Joint Statement of May 2, 1995. For example, the decision of both parties to prevent illegal departures by sea is ratified and, therefore, the United States maintains the commitment to return to Cuba all persons intercepted at sea or those entering the Guantánamo Naval Base.

Josefina Vidal.- For several years there has been an ongoing interest on the part of the Cuban government to adopt a new migratory agreement with the United States, to resolve serious problems that continued to affect migration relations, despite the existence of bilateral agreements in this area.

Cuba formalised this proposal for the first time in 2002; again submitted a new draft migratory agreement in 2009, which was updated in 2012, and most recently on November 30, 2015.

After a little more than a year of negotiations, this new agreement has been reached, with which Cuba and the United States take an important step toward the advancement of their migratory relations, especially as the “wet-foot/dry foot” policy is eliminated and the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that, by automatically admitting Cuban citizens arriving in the United States illegally and regardless of the routes and means employed, and encouraging the theft of talent, for years encouraged irregular, unsafe, and disorderly migration from Cuba, undermining the letter and spirit of the migratory agreements in force.

These policies were part of the arsenal of means employed over more than fifty years by different governments of the United States against the Cuban Revolution. Their implementation provoked migratory crises, the loss of human lives, hijackings of ships and aircraft; the commission of crimes such as trafficking in emigrants, trade in persons, immigration fraud, the use of violence, with a growing destabilising extraterritorial impact on other countries in the region, used as transit routes to reach U.S. territory.

Likewise, the Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals encouraged health personnel from our country collaborating in third countries to abandon their missions and emigrate to the United States, thus becoming a reprehensible practice that damaged Cuba’s international medical cooperation programs and deprived our country of some of these vital human resources and also the receiving nations that so need them.

With the adoption of this Joint Statement today, a trigger of migratory crises is eliminated; the United States attains legal, secure, and orderly emigration from Cuba; trafficking in persons and other related offences are discouraged; a discriminatory policy of double standards against emigrants from other countries is ended, and mutually, and regionally, beneficial coopeation is promoted, not only in the migratory sphere, but also in other areas such as the tackling of health threats.

In order to be consistent with the spirit and letter of this Joint Statement; to ensure regular, safe, and orderly migration; to effectively confront the threats to the security of both countries that are derived from irregular emigration and to achieve normal migratory relations between Cuba and the United States, it will also be necessary for the U.S. Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the only of its kind in the world and which does not correspond to the current bilateral context.

On January 14, 2013 – four years ago tomorrow – the government of Cuba began to implement the updating of its migration policy, which facilitated the travel of Cuban citizens abroad. This process has proceeded normally.

The Cuban government reiterates its commitment to regular, safe, and orderly migration and expects the U.S. government to scrupulously abide by this agreement.

Cuba will continue to guarantee the right to travel and emigrate of Cuban citizens and to return to the country, in accordance with the requirements of our migration law. It will also gradually adopt other measures to update the current migration policy and adjust it to present and future conditions, including changes made to U.S. legislation still in force in this area.

Thank you all very much. And we can respond to some questions.

Sergio A. Gómez (Granma).- Good evening.

In the statement issued by President Obama and published by the White House, it is stated that U.S. authorities will return all Cubans who enter illegally or irregularly, except in cases of humanitarian relief. Could you expand on what this term means?

Gustavo Machín.- I believe I must reiterate this: the text of the Migration Agreement or Joint Statement agreed between the two countries establishes that from this afternoon the United States undertakes to return, and Cuba to receive, all Cuban citizens who are detected by U.S. authorities attempting to enter or remain irregularly in that country, in violation of its laws. That is the text of our agreement and is what both countries have agreed.

Andrea Rodríguez (AP).- There are two concerns: one is related to this, we are in a transition between the Obama government and the Trump administration, to what extent do you think this decision pushes Trump to take a different policy or not around the thaw in relations with Cuba?

And another question is: based on the fact that all emigration or the vast majority of it, is economic emigration, this opens up new challenges now in the case of a more normal situation between Cuba and the United States, for example, there will be fewer remittances, in what sense does the Cuban government believe that this is going to impact its economy? For example, there are migratory dramas in the case of Guatemalans or Mexicans, to what extent do you think that Cubans will now experience this humanitarian crisis that other Latin American emigrants also experience?

Josefina Vidal.- What I can say, in a general sense, is that with this Migration Agreement, Cuba and Cubans are made equal, in terms of migratory treatment, to the rest of the world. And this had been a longstanding demand of Cuba, as the policy in force until now, and which is overcome with this agreement, implied preferential treatment only for Cubans, establishing a difference in the treatment received by our citizens and the rest of the citizens of other countries of the world. But in turn, it created serious problems for the security of Cuba, for the security of the United States, and problems for the security of our citizens, who were exposed, through the encouragement of these preferential policies, to trafficking in persons, migratory fraud, violence, and actually the approval of this agreement entails measures to eliminate all these problems.

With the equal treatment that Cubans will begin to receive, a serious problem for the security of both countries is being eliminated, but also for the safety of our citizens. I believe that this is an important aspect and was what lay behind the demand of Cuba for many years in its requests to the government of the United States eliminate both these practices and the legislation still in force.

As regards how this can be interpreted, continued, accepted, or assimilated by the government that is shortly going to take over, next week, in the United States, I believe you have to ask that government. But again, we note that what is corrected by this Joint Statement is an important step that responds not only to the national interests of Cuba, but also to the national interests of the United States.

Having said that, I think that the question should be addressed to the United States government.

Michael Voss (TV China).- Good evening. If you could offer me your reaction to this change and the importance of the agreement.

Josefina Vidal.- I can reiterate what we have said on other occasions, in the sense that among the issues on Cuba’s agenda, in this process initiated to advance toward the improvement of relations, we had and have a group of issues that are of vital importance to our country, because they come from an earlier stage in which some of these unresolved policies have been used for more than five decades as part of an arsenal, a strategy, of an aggressive and hostile position and policy toward our country . As such, today, with this new Migration Agreement, some of these problems in the migratory sphere are resolved, which were outstanding issues and affected the bilateral relationship as a whole, not only in the migratory sphere.

As you know, there is a list of pending issues in our bilateral process. We have always talked about the lifting of the blockade, the return to Cuba of the territory occupied by the United States Naval Base in Guantánamo; but also on our list was the continuity of this preferential migratory treatment, the only of its kind in the world, for Cuban citizens, therefore, with this measure, at least two of these policies are eliminated.

The Cuban Adjustment Act must still be reviewed so that normal relations can be achieved in the migratory area. In other words, today two of those stumbling blocks in the migratory sphere are eliminated. And we will continue to work with the United States government or with future U.S. governments in order to move toward the normalisation of relations and resolve the rest of the remaining issues, many of which affect Cuba’s sovereignty.

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