May 25, 2013
US, Cuba hold fresh round of migration talks
US and Cuban officials sat down for a fresh round of migration talks that have been overshadowed by the case of a US contractor jailed in Havana on suspicion of espionage.
Little progress is expected in the negotiations, which focus on ways to prevent mass exoduses of Cubans but also serve as the most important regular contact between the two countries.
The meeting in Havana is the fourth since US President Barack Obama came to office. Talks ended with little agreement in June after US officials protested the jailing of Alan Gross, a US citizen development contractor who was arrested in December 2009.
The Gross case has proved a sticking point in US-Cuban relations, with US diplomats saying his imprisonment is preventing attempts by Washington to improve ties with Cuba.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson is leading the US delegation. The talks concern a 1994 agreement to maintain orderly migration and avoid repeats of the 1980 Mariel boatlift and 1994 wave of boat people.
In past meetings, Cuba has asked to send more consular agents to the United States, while the United States has pushed for an end to travel restrictions for diplomats in both countries.
Cuba also wants an end to the US policy of granting Cubans who reach US shores almost automatic residency, which Havana says encourages illegal and dangerous migration.
The immigration talks were renewed in July 2009, five years after US President George W. Bush cancelled them.
The two countries have also held talks recently on resuming direct mail service and cooperation on some international drug trafficking cases.
But Cuba complains that little has changed under the Obama administration, which has maintained sanctions and US support for dissidents.
Some Cuban officials say privately that relations are likely to remain strained after the Republican Party won the majority in the US House of Representatives.
They point to the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-US lawmaker and fierce critic of President Raúl Castro.