U.S. and Cuban diplomats will sit down for immigration talks in Havana next week in the first such encounter since Havana shot down two civilian planes piloted by Cuban Americans in February, administration officials said Wednesday.
John Hamilton, deputy assistant secretary of state for Central America and the Caribbean, will lead the U.S. delegation in two days of talks that are limited exclusively to matters of immigration, the officials said.
The talks, scheduled for Dec. 4 and 5, mark the fifth in a series of meetings aimed at upholding an historic U.S.-Cuban migration agreement in September 1994. The accord brought an end to a refugee exodus from Cuba, prompted the forced repatriation of boat people intercepted at sea, and led to a U.S. vow to accept at least 20,000 Cuban immigrants a year.
Hamilton carries instructions to seek better access to refugees who have been repatriated by the United States to ensure that they are not being persecuted. He also is expected to ask Havana to reduce fees for emigrating Cubans that Washington calls “exorbitant.”
But he is “not authorized” to discuss fundamental policy issues, such as Washington’s economic embargo against the island. In previous meetings, Cuban officials have strayed from immigration and attempted to broach broader policy issues.
The administration suspended migration talks with Cuba after the Feb. 24 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes.
Prodded by Congress, the White House toughened its policy notably by supporting the embargo-tightening Helms-Burton bill in March.