US reopens visa and consular services at embassy in Cuba

HAVANA — The U.S. Embassy in Cuba will reopen visa and consular services on Wednesday, the first time it has done so since a series of unexplained health incidents among diplomatic staff last year. 2017 cut the US presence in Havana.

The embassy confirmed this week it will begin processing immigrant visas, with priority given to the issuance of permits to reunite Cubans with family in the US and others such as the diversity visa lottery.

The resumption comes as the biggest wave of migration from Cuba in decades has put pressure on the Biden administration to open more legal avenues for Cubans and begin dialogue with the government. Cuba, despite its historically strained relationship.

They are expected to issue at least 20,000 visas a year, although that is just one drop in the wave of migration, fueled by the growing economic and political crises on the island.

At the end of December, US authorities reported intercepting Cubans 34,675 times along the Mexican border in November, up 21% from 28,848 times in October.

Every month, that number has gradually increased. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows Cubans are now the second-largest nationality after Mexicans showing up at the border.

The increasing migration is due to a range of complicating factors, including economic, energy and political crises, as well as the deep discontent of the Cuban people.

While the vast majority of Cuban migrants arrive in the US via flights to Nicaragua and overland at the US border with Mexico, thousands more have also made the perilous journey by sea. They traveled 90 miles to the Florida coast, often arriving in rickety, precariously built boats filled with migrants.

The wave of emigration out of Cuba is further complicated by the growing influx of migrants to the US from other countries such as Haiti and Venezuela, forcing the US government to grapple with an increasingly complex situation at the southern border.

The extension of visa work at the embassy follows a series of migration negotiations and visits by US officials to Havana in recent months, and could also be a sign of gradual thaw between the two governments.

“Participating in these negotiations underscores our commitment to pursuing constructive discussions with the Cuban government where appropriate to advance U.S. interests,” said US Embassy. said in a statement in November following the visit of the US delegation to Cuba.

These small steps are a far cry from relations under President Barack Obama, who eased many Cold War-era U.S. sanctions during his time in office and made a historic visit to the island last year. 2016.

Visa and consular services were shut down on the island in 2017 after embassy staff encountered a series of health incidents, believed to be sonic attacks, that have largely remained unresolved. like it.

As a result, many Cubans who want to legally immigrate to the US have had to fly to places like Guyana to do so before emigrating or reuniting with their families.

While relations between Cuba and the United States have always been strained, they escalated after the embassy closure and the Trump administration tightened sanctions on Cuba.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has relaxed some restrictions on things like remittances and family travel from Miami to Cuba, but many in Cuba no longer hope that his presidency Biden will bring the island back to the “Obama era”.

Restrictions on travelers to Cuba, and the import and export of many goods, remain in place.

Tensions that also strain are the Cuban government’s harsh treatment of participants in the 2021 protests on the island, including heavy prison sentences for minors, a frequent spot. criticized by the Biden administration.

Cuban officials have repeatedly expressed optimism about negotiations with the United States and steps to reopen visa services. Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Cossio said in November that ensuring migration through safe and legal routes was a “common goal” for both countries.

But Cossio also blamed tens of thousands of people leaving the island on US sanctions, saying that “there is no doubt a policy aimed at reducing people’s living standards is the direct driver.” of migration.”


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