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Cuba-US migration talks pushed back until February

Posted on Friday, 12.04.09
Cuba-US migration talks pushed back until February
By PAUL HAVEN
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA — Highly anticipated immigration talks between Cuba and the
United States have been pushed back because of scheduling concerns that
each side blames on the other, another hint that reconciliation may be
more difficult than it once appeared.

A U.S. State Department official told The Associated Press on Friday
that both sides intend to continue holding periodic negotiations on
immigration issues twice a year, but that bureaucratic concerns derailed
talks that had been scheduled for early December in Havana.

"At the Cuban government's request, the talks have been rescheduled for
February," he said.

A senior Cuban official confirmed that the negotiations had been
delayed, but said it was at Washington's bidding – not Cuba's.

"We were ready to hold the talks in December," he said.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not
authorized to discuss the delay publicly.

They agreed that the postponement had nothing to do with politics, but
it was another sign of fraying in what months ago seemed like a golden
opportunity to end a half-century of discord.

"One does have the impression that things are rather stalled, and the
postponement of these talks will add to that impression," said Wayne
Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in
Washington and the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana,
which the U.S. maintains here instead of an embassy. "It's very
disappointing."

He blamed officials in Washington for dragging their feet, saying
President Barack Obama had taken baby steps and failed to show Havana he
was serious about changing U.S. policy.

Last month, the State Department denounced an assault – allegedly by
plainclothes state security agents – against Cuba's top dissident
blogger, Yoani Sanchez. Obama later sent a lengthy personal message to
her, praising her for her work and answering a series of questions she
had posed.

This week, prominent American black leaders denounced racism on the
island – a particularly touchy subject in Cuba – prompting a blistering
response from Cuban artists, writers and intellectuals who said their
society is not racist.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has used recent essays on world
events to lay into Obama for America's policy in Honduras, which he says
amounts to support of this summer's military coup there, and in
Colombia, where the U.S. recently signed an accord that will allow
American soldiers increased access to seven of that country's military
bases.

Castro said the plan amounted to a military annexation of Colombia by
Washington, saying that country was being "devoured by the empire with
the same ease with which a lizard swallows a fly."

Last week, Cuba conducted war games against a U.S. invasion, which Cuban
military leaders insist is still a real possibility.

Regularly scheduled discussions between the U.S. and Cuba were limited
to immigration issues from 1994 until they were canceled under President
George W. Bush in 2003. Both sides met to discuss the issue in New York
in July and called that session positive.

In September, Cuba and the United States revived talks to restore direct
mail service between both countries since Obama took office. Bisa
Williams, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western
Hemisphere affairs who traveled to Havana for those discussions, stayed
an extra six days and even met with Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister
Dagoberto Rodriguez, raising hopes for a thaw in relations.

But those hopes have fizzled somewhat.

Cuban officials say they have made concrete proposals to the United
States to hold talks on counternarcotics, disaster preparedness and
other issues – but have not heard back. Washington, in turn, says Cuba
has done little to inspire confidence that it will allow social,
political or economic changes – something the U.S. said is a
prerequisite to moving forward.

"We are waiting to see what kind of opening they are going to give their
own people," a second, more senior State Department official told AP in
a recent interview, also on condition of anonymity. "Their own people
are asking for it. That would put more wind in our sails, so to speak,
and help the dynamic moving forward."

Cuba-US migration talks pushed back until February – World AP –
MiamiHerald.com (4 December 2009)
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/world/AP/story/1365505.html

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