Friday, February 19, 2010

US and Cuba Continue Immigration Talks

"U.S.-Cuba immigration talks underway in Havana"

"U.S. and Cuban diplomats met in Havana on Friday for high-level talks on immigration, but the conversation was sure to turn to stickier issues, including the detention of an American contractor accused of spying.

The negotiations began just after 9 a.m. at an undisclosed location in Havana, said Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains here instead of an embassy.

The regularly scheduled talks come at a low point in relations between two Cold War enemies that have been at each other's throats for months about a range of issues, notably the Dec. 3 arrest of Alan Gross, a 60-year-old American contractor who was in Cuba on a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development...

The American delegation in Havana was being led by Craig Kelly, deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs and the most senior U.S. official to travel to Cuba in years. One of Kelly's subordinates, Bisa Williams, came in September for separate talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service.

When she stayed on in Havana and held secret talks with Cuban officials, hopes were high that the breakthrough would herald a new relationship across the Florida Straits.

It didn't.

In fact, Cuba and the United States have been in a non-stop war of words since then over nearly every issue imaginable, from President Obama's performance at climate talks in Copenhagen, which Fidel Castro called 'deceitful' and 'demagogic,' to the U.S. relief effort in Haiti, which he termed an occupation.

Cuba was particularly angered by Washington's decision to continue including it on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Then there are the perennial issues such as Washington's insistence that Cuba open its political system to democratic changes and free jailed political prisoners, and Cuba's demand that Washington drop its 48-year trade embargo and stop meddling in what Havana considers its internal affairs...

The immigration talks began in 1994 but were suspended under Bush. They resumed in July and are meant to be held twice annually. The aim is to monitor adherence to a 16-year-old agreement under which the United States issues 20,000 emigration visas to Cubans per year."

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