Respect in Migration Talks; Dissonance over Dissidents

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A United States delegation led by Craig Kelly, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, met with Cuban officials led by Dagoberto Rodríguez, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, in Havana on Friday, February  19th, to discuss migration issues.  This meeting marked the second round of migration talks since their suspension in 2004 by President George W. Bush.

Both parties released statements explaining that the discussions took place in an “atmosphere of respect” in which the migration accords were reviewed.  According to the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s press release posted by the Havana Note, “They also discussed some of the aspects contained in the new draft migration accord submitted by Cuba during the round of talks held on July, 2009, in New York, aimed at ensuring a legal, safe and orderly migration between the two countries and a more effective cooperation to combat illegal alien smuggling.” Currently, the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy that provides Cubans with preferential treatment upon entering the United States, encourages illegal departures and inhibits the aforementioned goal of safe migration from being achieved.

Other topics were also discussed, such as the expansion of Cuban consular personnel at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., and non-immigration topics, such as the release of the Cuban Five and the detainment of USAID contractor, Alan Gross (read more here).

Despite requests from the Cuban government, the U.S. delegation met with Cuban dissidents after the official migration talks. The New York Times reported that it is U.S. policy to reach out to all levels of Cuban society. An anonymous State Department official said, “We believe in reaching out to broad sectors of society in all countries that we deal with … and we don’t make exceptions in particular countries.” Even though meeting with non-governmental members and opposition leaders is standard for U.S. diplomats, Cuban officials previously stated that meetings with dissidents would not be tolerated.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry stated that the meeting conducted by the U.S. delegation “demonstrated anew that (U.S.) priorities are more related to supporting the counterrevolution and the promotion of subversion to destabilize the Cuban revolution than with the creation of a climate conducive to real solutions to bilateral problems.” Yet, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said that the U.S. talks with dissidents would not derail the migration talks. Alarcon also restated Cuba’s desire to continue the dialogue with the United States on other issues besides immigration.