By Dave Sherwood
HAVANA (Reuters) -Cuba and the United States will hold another round of migration talks on Tuesday in Havana, officials said on Monday, as the two countries grapple with a crisis that has seen record-breaking numbers of Cubans enter the United States.
Migration talks between the two countries resumed in April, the first such conversations in four years after a long hiatus under former President Donald Trump. The administration of President Joe Biden has since announced it will restart "full immigrant visa processing" in Havana on Jan. 4.
Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told Reuters in an interview in Havana that those steps would discourage illegal migration from Cuba but "were not enough."
He said the talks on Tuesday would, in part, address underlying issues, including U.S. immigration policies that he said favor Cuban migrants over those of other nationalities.
"The potential Cuban migrant goes with the idea that if he manages to reach the border of the U.S. or enter U.S. territory, he will eventually be admitted," De Cossio said. "That is a powerful stimulus."
A record 220,000 Cubans were caught at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022, which ended on Sept. 30, shattering previous records. The vast majority were allowed into the United States to pursue immigration cases.
De Cossio cited the U.S. Cold War-era trade embargo as another key factor behind the recent mass exodus. The sanctions, he said, contribute to a grinding economic crisis on the island that has led to daily blackouts and hours-long lines for food, fuel and medicine.
The deputy foreign minister also confirmed a Reuters reportlast week that Cuba, for its part, had agreed for the first time since the pandemic to accept U.S. deportation flights carrying Cubans caught at the U.S.-Mexico border. The move could send a symbolic message to individuals who typically fly to Central America and travel north to the border.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed Tuesday's talks in Havana "to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords."
"These talks are routine and represent a continuation of our nearly 30-year engagement with Cuba on migration matters as neighboring states and are limited to the topic of migration," the spokesperson added.
De Cossio said he would represent Cuba in the talks. Emily Mendrala, the deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, who attended the April talks, will represent the United States, according to a source in Washington familiar with the matter.
De Cossio told Reuters that Cuba had begun restaffing its own embassy in Washington to match the United States´ decision to ramp up staffing and resume visa processing in Havana.
"Since the end of last year, there has been a a very gradual process of restaffing [each of] the respective embassies," De Cossio said.
The Cuban Embassy in Washington has been operating with a skeletal staff since October 2017, when the Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats. The U.S. move was to protest what the administration said was Cuba’s failure to protect staff at the U.S. embassy in Havana from a mysterious spate of health “attacks.”
The expulsions delivered another blow to former President Barack Obama’s policy of rapprochement after decades of hostility and suspicion between Cuba and the United States.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)