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Engaging With Cuba

Engaging With Cuba
Engaging With Cuba

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American and Cuban diplomats took the first small steps toward improving relations between our two countries with talks in New York this week on migration issues. The discussions revived a regular dialogue between Washington and Havana on migration issues for the first time in 6 years, and followed a pledge by President Barack Obama to reach out to all of America's neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.

The delegations met to discuss implementation of the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, agreements that affirm the commitment of both countries to ensure safe, legal and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States. No deals were struck, but the U.S. highlighted areas where our two nations are cooperating on migration issues, and identified concerns it had for moving forward.

The U.S. wants its Interests Section office in Havana to be able to carry out its full range of diplomatic and consular functions. It is seeking access to a deep-water seaport for the safe repatriation of migrants, and the ability to check on the welfare of returned migrants once they are back in Cuba. Cuban delegates listed their own concerns, and invited the U.S. delegation to come to Havana in December to continue the discussions.

The migration talks come 3 months after President Obama lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances for those with relatives on the island. The U.S. also joined with other members of the Organization of American States to establish a path for Cuba to resume participation in the OAS, if Cuba initiates the process of dialogue and if, as a result of that dialogue, the OAS decides that Cuba’s participation will meet the purposes and principles of the OAS, including democracy and respect for human rights.

To be sure, Washington and Havana have a long way to go if fully normalized relations are to be achieved. Human rights concerns cloud any discussion of Cuban affairs and the Cuban government continues to suppress its political opponents and stifle a free press. Nevertheless, engaging in migration talks underscores the U.S. interest in pursuing constructive discussions with Havana to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern.