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Cuba, U.S. take aim at people smuggling

Cuba, U.S. take aim at people smuggling

Expert-level meeting will be held on joint fight against smuggling rings
Cuba says U.S. migration policies encourage ‘irregular’ exodus
Cuba to tighten up on departure of medical specialists
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD

The United States said Tuesday that Cuba has agreed to expert-level
meetings on how both governments can fight people smuggling networks
that have taken advantage of Cuban migrants en route to the United States.

U.S. and Cuban delegations met Monday in Washington for biannual
migration talks that included discussions on how the U.S.-Cuban
Migration Accords, which were signed in the mid-1990s, were working and
on the recent Cuban migrant impasse in Central America.

“The U.S. delegation expressed its concern for the safety of the
thousands of Cuban migrants transiting through Central America,” said
the U.S. State Department in a media note.

Some 3,000 Cubans who were making their way north to the U.S.-Mexico
border where they planned to seek entry under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment
Act were stopped on Nov. 15 as they tried to enter Nicaragua. Now they
are stranded near the border in neighboring Costa Rica awaiting a
solution that would allow them to continue their trips.

In an indication that Cuba is growing increasingly concerned over the
growing exodus of its people, especially doctors, the government said
Tuesday it will begin more closely monitoring the departures of Cuban
medical specialists beginning next Monday and putting more restrictions
on their private trips abroad.

“This does not mean that medical specialists cannot or live
abroad, but their dates outside the country will be discussed,” the
government announced.

So many Cuban doctors on international medical missions have left their
posts, lured by a special U.S. parole program for Cuban medical
professionals and by recruiters who seek them out, that it is hurting
Cuban medical-cooperation programs and seriously affecting vital
specialties such as cardiology, neurosurgery, and orthopedics, the
government said.

It also reiterated that medical professionals who have already abandoned
their foreign posts can return to Cuba and receive positions comparable
to the ones they previously held.

The U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords are supposed to provide for “safe,
orderly and legal” migration of Cubans to the United States, but the
Cuban side has complained that the potential migrants now trapped in
Central America are being victimized by smuggling organizations along a
risky path that often begins in Ecuador and winds its way up through the
Americas to the Mexican border.

Ecuador was a favorite jumping-off point for Cubans who wanted to
eventually enter the United States because it didn’t require them to
obtain visas. But as of Tuesday, visas became mandatory for
Cubans to visit the South American country.

The Ecuadorean Embassy in Havana began issuing the first visas on Friday
to Cubans who had already booked passages to Ecuador before the policy
change and it worked overtime to handle the needs of those scheduled to
travel in the next few days.

Other countries along the route of the migrants have said they plan to
adopt measures to protect their borders and “energetically suppress
people-trafficking networks and organized crime,” Cuba’s Foreign
Ministry said in a lengthy statement issued Tuesday.

Now these Cubans whose ultimate goal is the United States find
themselves in an “ situation in Central and South America,”
victimized by smuggling gangs that are responsible for “violent acts,
extortion, harassment and other crimes” during a journey that requires
eight illegal border crossings, the Foreign Ministry said.

During a meeting of foreign ministers of the Central American System of
Integration, as well as Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Cuba, all the
countries were in favor of stopping “illegal migratory flows” through
their territories, the Cuban statement said.

It also said those attending the Nov. 24 meeting in El Salvador opposed
preferential U.S. migration policies for Cubans, such as wet foot/dry
foot, the Cuban Adjustment Act, and the medical-parole program, which
stimulate illegal, unsafe, and disorderly migration.

Such policies, said Cuba, are “incongruous with the diplomatic ties that
now exist between the United States and Cuba and the process of dialogue
between the two countries,” the Cubans said.

“The administration has no plans to alter current migration policy
regarding Cuba,” the U.S. said in its statement. “As with any bilateral
relationship, there were some areas of disagreement, but it took place
in a respectful, cooperative, and productive environment.”

During the Monday talks, Cuba repeated its call for the United States to
eliminate all migration policies that give special preferences to Cubans.

Since 2013 — when Cuba changed its migration laws, abolishing the
reviled exit visa — nearly 500,000 Cubans have traveled abroad, an 81
percent increase from the 2010-2012 period, the Cuban government said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. and Cuban delegations also met in Washington to
discuss efforts to combat drug trafficking and increase cooperation.

Mimi Whitefield: 305-376-3727, @HeraldMimi

Source: Cuba, U.S. take aim at people smuggling | Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article47440865.html

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