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Cuba | US resumes issuing immigration visas in Havana



(Havana) The American embassy in Havana resumed Wednesday the issuance of visas for Cubans wishing to settle in the United States, in a context of record exodus towards this country, but without taking shape a “normalization” relations with the communist island.

“It was very quick, I now have to pick up my visa and I can travel,” rejoices at the exit of the embassy Melissa Vazquez, 18 years old. After “seven years” of waiting, she now hopes to find her father who lives in the United States.

“It’s favorable for all Cubans who are going to travel, of course,” welcomes Eduardo Gonzalez. This 49-year-old craftsman had seen his family reunification procedure interrupted in 2017 when the consulate closed for supposed health incidents affecting diplomats, a phenomenon still unexplained.

“I still had to provide a document” and “I don’t know if I will be given a favorable outcome,” he told AFP, moderately optimistic, before his appointment.

The American embassy announced in March the reopening of its consulate. This announcement was followed by several high-level meetings of officials from both countries, first in Washington and then in Havana, with the aim of reactivating the immigration agreements interrupted under the government of Donald Trump (2017-2021).

Relaunched in May in a “limited” way, the processing of visa applications resumed normally on Wednesday, except for tourist visas, in order to “ensure safe, legal and orderly emigration”, according to the embassy.

Since 2017, Cubans wishing to obtain a visa for the United States have faced a veritable obstacle course, with the obligation to apply, at their own expense, in a third country – generally Guyana.

“It embodies what we have always said: that we seek to find practical ways to support the Cuban people,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Minimal Changes”

Hit by a serious economic crisis, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented exodus. Since the end of 2021, many Cubans have taken advantage of the visa exemption in Nicaragua, an ally of Havana, to then try to reach the United States through Central America.

Since 1er December 2021 and until the beginning of December 2022, US authorities have made 277,594 arrests of Cubans attempting to enter the United States illegally. Illegal emigration by sea has accelerated in recent months.

The Cuban government has acknowledged that Washington granted in 2022, for the first time since 2017, more than 20,000 visas to Cubans wishing to settle in the United States, as provided for in agreements dating from 1994.

But “as long as the embargo continues […] as well as the privileged treatment at the border” granted to migrants coming from Cuba, “it will be difficult to considerably reduce the illegal migratory flow”, reacted on Twitter the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez.

If certain sanctions imposed under Donald Trump have been relaxed by his successor Joe Biden, the Democrat is careful for the moment not to relaunch the policy of rapprochement initiated by Barack Obama (2009-2017).

Upon arriving at the White House, Mr. Biden promised to review US policy towards Cuba, but his rhetoric hardened after anti-government protests on the island in July 2021. In December, he called again the release of “hundreds of political prisoners” arrested during the demonstrations.

Washington has also kept Cuba on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and recently included it in a list of countries that violate religious freedom.

“Mr. Biden is trying to recalibrate his policy toward Cuba, charting a middle course between Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ and Obama’s ‘approach’, but for now changes in US policy toward the island have been minimal,” said Jorge Duany, a Cuba scholar at Florida International University.

“It is a good sign that the governments of the two countries are talking to each other on how to manage migratory flows in an orderly and rational way”, analyzes for AFP Michael Shifter, of Georgetown University in Washington. But “for the moment, there are no conditions for moving towards a normalization of relations”.

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