US Cuba diplomatic relations sinking to new lows
Posted: 19 July 2007 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]
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By Pablo Bachelet | Miami Herald

U.S.: Cuba to blame for held-up visas

The State Department on Wednesday released more details of how Cuban authorities were preventing its mission in Havana from fulfilling its duties, citing containers being held up for a year and technical staff stopped from conducting needed repairs.

The actions, according to the State Department, meant the U.S. Interests Section, which acts as an embassy since both nations do not have formal diplomatic relations, was falling behind in processing visas for Cubans wanting to leave the island.

Cuba on Tuesday accused the Bush administration of deliberately handing out fewer visas to cause instability on the island. The foreign ministry said the State Department had issued fewer than 11,000 visas in the nine months ending June 30, well short of the 20,000 quota. U.S. officials did not dispute the number.

‘‘They’re not holding up their end of the bargain,’’ said Eugene Santoro, a spokesman for the State Department.

The Cubans have retained 26 containers with supplies for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana for a year, he said, and Cuba has refused to issue visas to U.S. personnel who need to go to Havana to maintain technical systems.

He said U.S. personnel who need to go to the mission to conduct electrical repairs have been waiting for visas for one year.

Cuba has refused to allow the mission to replace local staffers that have left or retired. In a separate statement, the U.S. Interests Section said it needed to hire 47 staffers.

‘‘We repeatedly raised these concerns with the government of Cuba and got no response,’’ he said.

Asked whether the United States should resume the migration talks suspended by the Bush administration in 2004 to discuss these concerns, Santoro said the Cubans refused to talk about matters that were of interest to the United States.

The Cubans refused to provide a deep-water port for U.S. Coast Guard vessels returning Cubans caught at sea attempting to flee to the United States. Havana also refused to receive Cuban nationals that were being returned to the island, known as “excludables.’’

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