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US, Cuba to hold migration talks in Havana

January 8, 2014

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban and U.S. representatives are set to meet in Havana for a new round of restarted migration talks on Thursday, a signal of the longtime Cold War foes’ recent willingness to engage in areas of mutual interest but unlikely to be a harbinger of a major thaw in relations.

The meetings are supposed to be held every six months to discuss the implementation of 1990s accords under which the United States agreed to issue 20,000 immigration visas annually to Cubans.

“Under the Accords, both governments pledge to promote safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. The agenda for the talks reflects longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues,” the U.S. State Department said in a brief statement. “This does not represent any change in policy towards Cuba.”

Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the past, the talks have also been used as opportunities to broach other topics — a rare chance for dialogue between nations that do not have full diplomatic ties and have been at each other’s throats since shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

The migration talks, along with separate discussions aimed restarting direct mail service, were suspended in 2011 after the arrest of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross in Cuba in 2009. Discussions held on migration in July 2013 were the first between the two countries since 2011. Multiple meetings on mail service were also held last year.

Gross was accused of acting against Cuba’s national sovereignty and sentenced to 15 years. He maintains that his work setting up hard-to-detect Internet networks for the island’s Jewish community posed no threat to the state.

His imprisonment remains a major point of contention between Havana and Washington. But diplomats say privately that the Obama administration decided early last year not to let the case stand in the way of all engagement.

Representatives of the two governments met multiple times in 2013, and diplomats on both sides say they enjoy cordial personal relationships with their counterparts.

The most recent discussions in Havana in September focused on mail delivery. The State Department called the talks “fruitful” and Cuba called them “respectful,” though no deal has yet been struck.

One issue that may come up this week is Cuba’s recent banking woes at its diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations. The institution that had processed Cuba’s diplomatic banking in the United States moved to sever the relationship in late 2013, prompting Cuba to suspend nearly all consular services in the country.

The bank offered an extension and Cuba resumed visa processing and other services Dec. 9. But Havana has yet to find a permanent U.S. banking partner, and is only guaranteeing consular services through the Feb. 17 extension.

The State Department says it has been working with Cuba to try to resolve the matter.


Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

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