HAVANA — Two days before the opening of migration talks between Cuba and the United States, which have been paralyzed for four years, a high-ranking Cuban official lamented Washington’s “incoherent” and “differentiated” migration policies, and exhorted Washington to comply with current agreements.
“We are noticing, and now much more these days, that there is a differentiated and incoherent approach by the United States toward the migratory issue,” Deputy Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal told a small group of journalists on Tuesday.
The U.S. is financially helping “many countries in the region in order to reactivate their economies, to help them create jobs,” including supporting health and education projects, said Vidal. Washington’s policy is exactly the opposite with Cuba, where it is applying “maximum pressure to the economic order and through coercive measures.”
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that the meeting will be held in Washington Thursday and its delegation will be headed by deputy minister Carlos Fernández de Cossio.
The last of these meetings — which according to agreements between both countries must be held twice a year — took place in July 2018, under the administration of then President Donald Trump.
Trump ended the policy of rapprochement between both nations that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had begun.
Trump increased sanctions against the Caribbean island, from the cancellation of permits to send remittances or cruise ships, to penalties for companies from third countries that operate in Cuba, to limitation of flights and punishment of oil tankers bound for Cuba.
These measures and the pandemic contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba, with shortages of basic products, power outages and the respective queues and rationing.
Trump withdrew embassy staff in 2017. Thousands of people were left with incomplete family reunification processes or were prevented from traveling unless they carried out visa procedures through Guyana. U.S. President Joe Biden did not relax the tough measures, despite his campaign promises.
“We do not see any justification for not giving all visas to Cuban emigrants in Havana and forcing the majority of Cubans to travel (to Guyana), with the costs that this implies,” added Vidal, who was the head of negotiations for the historic rapprochement with the U.S. in 2014. The talks concluded with the reopening of diplomatic offices and Obama’s trip to the island.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in the last six months Cubans were stopped 79,800 times at the southern U.S. border, a little more than double that number seen in the entire 2021 fiscal year and five times more than in 2020.
On Tuesday, Vidal presented a gloomy picture. Cuban authorities have said that in the last five years Washington has failed to comply with the part of a bilateral agreement that establishes the delivery of 20,000 visas per year.
Sea crossings have also increased, either in rustic boats or at the hands of traffickers. From October to date, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 1,257 Cubans, compared with 838 in 2021.
As the figures stand, the number of departures is higher than during the so-called “rafter crisis” of 1994 when some 30,000 people arrived through the Straits of Florida and half of those who did so in the Mariel exodus in 1980, when some 124,000 Cubans left.
Vidal said there is a “historical regularity” with how these dramatic migratory peaks occur when the U.S. fails to comply with agreements, increases sanctions or puts obstacles to a more or less normal processing of visas.
Furthermore, “the United States is exerting pressure on countries in the region to establish specific requirements for Cubans in transit, which creates additional obstacles,” she said.
Vidal refused to reveal the agenda Cuba will bring to the talks, but indicated that this issue will be among those mentioned.
In recent months, Panama and Costa Rica announced that they would require transit visas from Cubans, a different position of Nicaragua — an ally of Cuba — which lifted this requirement and since November became the new point of departure of Cubans heading to the United States.
Cuba has held migratory talks with countries such as Canada, Belize, and less than a month ago with Mexico, which is seeing more Cubans at its borders.