U.S. and Cuban diplomats met in Havana recently for more high-level talks to promote safe, legal and orderly migration from the island nation to the United States.
Sixteen years ago, in an effort to persuade those hoping to leave Cuba not to risk the dangerous sea passage to South Florida, the 2 countries signed an accord calling for 20,000 travel documents to be issued to Cubans each year. Discussions on implementing the program broke down in political disputes, but last year were revived by President Barack Obama. Craig Kelley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, led the U.S. delegation in the recent meetings, the most senior U.S. diplomat to visit Cuba in many years.
The discussions centered on ensuring that U.S. representatives working in Cuba are able to do their jobs effectively; that they can meet with and monitor the welfare of migrants who return to Cuba after attempting to illegally migrate to the United States; and that Cuban officials accept Cuban nationals back who have been ordered out of the U.S. because of crimes they committed before emigrating. Initial statements by Cuban officials were positive, seeming to encourage further talks, not only on migration but on other bilateral issues as well. The arrest of Alan Gross, a U.S. development worker detained by the Cuban government in December, is a significant impediment to further advancing our bilateral relations, however. The U.S. delegation raised his case with the Cuban government and pressed strongly for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds, because of failing health.
Engaging in such discussions underscores the U.S. interest in pursuing a constructive dialogue on issues of mutual concern. The U.S. has taken several concrete steps for better communication and understanding between our two nations. These include reestablishing direct mail service, easing travel restrictions on Americans wishing to visit Cuba, and allowing U.S. telecommunications companies to do business there. It is hoped that the Havana government will respond to these good-faith gestures with steps of its own to ensure the most basic human rights and improve the lives of its people.