US, Cuba to resume migration talks today

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Cuba plan to resume talks on Cuban migration to the United States today, a US official said, a dialogue that is part of US President Barack Obama’s bid to engage the communist island.

The talks, last held in 2003 and suspended by Washington in 2004, cover a mid-1990s agreement that aimed to prevent an exodus of Cuban refugees to the United States such as the 1980 Mariel boatlift and another wave of boat people in 1994.

The United States on May 22 offered to resume the talks, predictably drawing mixed reviews from the Cuban American community, where some criticized it as a concession to a dictatorial regime and others as a step toward better ties.

“The talks are being held tomorrow in New York,” said the U.S. official, who declined to be named because the US government had yet to formally announce the discussions.

It was not clear why the talks were being held in New York, rather than in Washington, nor how long they might last.

Obama on April 13 decided to ease limits on family travel to Cuba and to allow US telecom companies to operate on the communist-run island, a sign that analysts said could mark the beginning of the end of the 50-year-old US embargo.

Analysts have suggested restarting the migration talks would be a further token of Obama’s desire to reach out to Cuba as he has to other nations such as Iran and Syria with which the United States has had strained relations for decades.

The 1995 migration accord sought to put a definitive end to mass sea-borne migration.
It established the repatriation to Cuba by US authorities of Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, and Havana also pledged to halt illegal migration bids.

In the same accord, the United States agreed to foster legal migration by granting at least 20,000 US visas to Cubans each year.

The administration of former US President George W. Bush suspended the talks in January 2004, saying Cuba had stymied them by refusing to discuss key issues such as giving exit permits to all Cubans who get US visas.

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