Tags: US | Cuba to Hold New round of Migration Talks

US, Cuba to Hold New round of Migration Talks

Thursday, 06 Jan 2011 08:40 PM

HAVANA (Reuters) -- U.S. and Cuban delegations will meet next week in Havana in the latest round of talks on migration issues, but with few hopes for any significant accomplishments, U.S. officials said Thursday.

It will be the fourth meeting on the topic since the talks resumed under President Barack Obama, but like other aspects of U.S.-Cuba relations they are bogged down by Cuba's detention of American aid contractor Alan Gross for the past 13 months.

"We're not expecting much out of this," a U.S. official said of the talks, which will be held on Wednesday.

The United States has said there will be little progress in its long-hostile relations with the communist-led island until Gross, 61, is freed.

So far, Cuban officials have hinted that Gross was involved in espionage and said he brought in illegal satellite communications equipment, but they have not charged him with a crime.

As they have in the three previous meetings since Obama took office, negotiators will discuss the state of a 1994 agreement to maintain orderly migration and avoid mass exoduses from Cuba like the 1980 Mariel boatlift and 1994 wave of boat people.

Cuba has asked to send more consular agents to the United States, while the United States has pushed for an end to travel restrictions for diplomats in both countries.

Cuba also wants an end to the U.S. policy of granting Cubans who reach U.S. shores almost automatic residency, which Havana says encourages illegal and dangerous migration.

While migration talks top the agenda, the two countries who have had little direct communication over the past five decades usually bring up other issues, such as Alan Gross.

In past meetings, U.S. officials have said they have demanded that he be freed and the Cubans did not respond.

The United States says Gross was simply installing Internet access for Jewish groups, but he was in Cuba under a federally funded program promoting political change on the island.

Cuba views the programs as part of U.S. policy to topple its communist government, led since a 1959 revolution by Fidel Castro until 2008 and now his younger brother Raul Castro.

The United States and Cuba held migration talks regularly until President George W. Bush canceled them in 2004.

Their renewal in July 2009, seven months after Obama took office and shortly after he eased the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, sparked optimism that a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations was at hand.

Gross' detention on Dec. 3, 2009 at his Havana hotel brought the brief warmth in relations to an end.


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