External Affairs

Suspensions of Visas Hurting Families, Cuba Tells US

International travellers arrive on the day that US President Donald Trump’s limited travel ban, approved by the US Supreme Court, goes into effect, at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, US, June 29, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Havana: Cuba told senior US officials during talks on migration in Havana on Monday that the US decision to suspend visa processing at its embassy on the island was “seriously hampering” family relations and other people exchanges.

Relations between the former Cold War foes became strained after Donald Trump became the US president, partially reversing the thaw seen during Barack Obama’s presidency.

In September, after allegations of incidents affecting the health of its diplomats in Havana, the US administration reduced its embassy to a skeleton staff, resulting in the suspension of almost all visa processing.

“The Cuban delegation expressed deep concern over the negative impact that the unilateral, unfounded and politically motivated decisions adopted by the US government … have on migration relations between both countries,” the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement.

The statement was issued after delegations led by Cuba‘s foreign ministry chief for US affairs Josefina Vidal and US deputy assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs John Creamer met to discuss migration issues.

Many Cubans said they were heartbroken because they could not visit or be with their loved ones. While Cuba has a population of 11.2 million people, there are an estimated 2 million Cuban-Americans in the US.

The Trump administration also issued a ban on travel to Cuba and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington in October.

The Cuban foreign ministry said this had “seriously affected the functioning of the diplomatic mission, particularly the Consulate and the services it offers to Cubans residing in the United States.”

The US decision to cancel the visits of official delegations to Cuba was also having a “counterproductive effect” on cooperation in fields like migration, the ministry said.

On the positive side, both the US and Cuban delegations commented on the drop in illegal Cuban migration to the US during the talks as a result of past moves towards normalising relations.

Obama, who announced the detente with Cuba nearly three years ago, eliminated a policy granting automatic residency to virtually all Cubans who arrived on US turf in January, just before leaving office.

Cuba had asked for the change for years, saying that policy encouraged dangerous journeys and people trafficking.

“Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at US ports of entry decreased by 64% from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and maritime interdiction of Cuban migrants decreased by 71%,” the US State Department said in a statement.

In June, Trump said he was canceling Obama’s “terrible and misguided deal” with Havana, returning to Cold War rhetoric, and his administration has tightened trade and travel restrictions.

He has, however, in practise left in place many of Obama’s changes, including restored diplomatic relations, and resumed direct US-Cuba commercial flights and cruise-ship travel.