January 27, 2010 / 8:39 PM / 9 years ago

Cuba, U.S. set for migration talks next month

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban and U.S. negotiators will meet in February for a second round of talks on migration issues since the discussions were renewed last summer, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Wednesday.

He said no date was set for the meeting, which had been scheduled for December in Havana but was postponed for undisclosed reasons.

The United States has said since December that the talks would be reset for February, but Cuba remained silent about it until now.

Officials from the two countries met in New York in July, reviving talks last held in 2003 before they were canceled

under President George W. Bush.

The U.S. State Department described the renewal of negotiations then as part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s desire to pursue a more constructive relationship with Cuba, after five decades of hostility.

The discussions cover agreements from the mid-1990s aimed at preventing an exodus of Cuban refugees to the United States such as the 1980 Mariel boatlift and a 1994 wave of boat people.

The United States agreed to repatriate Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, while Cuba said it would clamp down on illegal immigration.

The United States has pushed for access to a deepwater port so it can safely return migrants and to ensure that U.S. diplomats can track the welfare of those sent back.

Cuba wants Washington to abandon its immigration policy that gives preferential treatment to Cubans who reach U.S. shores. It says the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy encourages Cubans to abandon their homeland for the United States.

ROUGH PATCH

U.S.-Cuba relations have improved slightly under Obama, but hit a rough patch after Cuba detained a U.S. contractor last month on charges he brought illegal satellite communications equipment to Cuban dissidents.

Rodriguez, who spoke at a Havana conference for Cuban who live abroad but back the Cuban government, repeated complaints that U.S. policy remains essentially unchanged under Obama.

“Obama has not used the prerogatives the president of the United States has to make practical changes in relations with Cuba,” he said.

Cuban officials have pointed to the detained contractor as proof that under Obama, the U.S. continues to try to subvert the Cuban government.

Obama eased the embargo last year by allowing Cuban Americans to travel freely to Cuba and send unlimited amounts of money to relatives there, and initiated talks on re-establishing direct postal service between the two countries. A first round of discussions was held in Havana in September.

But he has said the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the island will remain in place until Cuba releases political prisoners and improves human rights.

Editing by Jeff Franks and Xavier Briand

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