The US will once again grant Cuba 20,000 annual emigrant visas and will reactivate its consulate in Havana | International

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High-level officials from Cuba and the United States held talks this week in Havana on migration issues as a first step to materialize the reopening of the US consular services on the island, suspended by the Trump administration five years ago, and reactivate the application of the agreement. current immigration law, which establishes Washington's obligation to annually grant a minimum of 20,000 visas to Cuban emigrants —in the last five years only an average of 4,000 were granted, according to Cuban authorities—.

The visit of the assistant secretary of the Department of State for Consular Affairs, Rena Bitter, and the director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security of the United States, Ur Mendoza Jaddou, is so far the highest level of an American delegation since Joe Biden arrived at the White House, and it occurs in the midst of a serious migration crisis. In the last fiscal year, 224,000 Cubans entered the United States irregularly through the Mexican border, and more than 6,000 rafters were intercepted on the high seas by US Coast Guard vessels. In September, Cuba and the United States held a "technical meeting" in Havana between Cuban Border Guard Troops and the US Coast Guard Service to "increase bilateral cooperation" in the fight against irregular emigration.

Bitter and Mendoza were received on Wednesday by a Cuban delegation headed by the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, who, according to an official statement, "reiterated the importance of fully resuming the immigration and consular services at the US Embassy in Havana, including the processing of non-immigrant visas” and confirmed its willingness to collaborate “with the necessary steps for the full operation of the migratory and consular services of the diplomatic headquarters.”

For its part, the US embassy reported that Washington will resume the "complete processing of immigrant visas as of January 4, 2023", prioritizing family reunification, and also that it will "expand consular services" and increase its staff "according to conditions permit." In a press statement, the embassy said that during the talks, Bitter "expressed his concern to Cuban officials about the human rights situation and urged the government to unconditionally release all political prisoners." Cuba, for its part, stresses that the US embargo must be lifted because it is the main cause of the worsening of living conditions in Cuba and is a stimulus to irregular emigration.

In 2017, under the mandate of Republican Donald Trump, the US embassy reduced its staff to a minimum on the grounds of mysterious "sonic attacks" against its diplomats, something that Havana always denied and was never corroborated with scientific evidence, despite the investigations carried out by the United States. According to the Cuban government, the alleged “sonic attacks” were only a pretext to dismantle the embassy as “part of a political operation to reverse advances in the ties between Cuba and the United States given during the administration of Barack Obama”.

Since then, consular operations have been practically paralyzed and Cubans who are candidates for emigration had to travel to Guyana to carry out the procedures for entering the United States from there. which will now reset.

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During Trump's term (2017-2021), the United States notably tightened the embargo policy and included the island on the list of terrorist countries after having increased financial persecution and eliminated remittances, canceled direct flights and suspended travel cruise ships, among other measures to suffocate the fragile Cuban economy. Biden, who during the election campaign advocated returning to Obama's "constructive engagement" policy toward Havana, has been very cautious since he arrived at the White House and has only eased some of the sanctions — on remittances, flights and some types of trips—although the dialogue between the two countries has slowly been advancing.

The regular official talks on immigration issues, suspended by Trump, have been resumed – the last meeting was in Washington in April. Representatives of the US Coast Guard service traveled to Havana in September to discuss the issue of irregular emigration, and there have also been bilateral contacts on collaboration to prevent fuel spills that could affect the environment.

For the first time, after the passage of Hurricane Ian, Cuba accepted humanitarian aid worth two million dollars granted by USAID, the US Agency for International Development, which Havana has always accused of fomenting subversion on the island. . And also, after a serious industrial fire last summer, the US helped by sending uniforms and equipment for firefighters. Now, in the midst of an unprecedented migration crisis—which has already surpassed the Mariel and the raft crises combined—both countries are meeting to discuss these issues at a high level.

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