By Irwin Arieff | Reuters
UNITED NATIONS - Cuba accused the United States on Friday of cutting back on visas to Cubans hoping to visit or migrate although it encouraged hijackings and illegal immigrants, but Washington rejected the allegations.
The exchange took place at the latest round of semi-annual U.S.-Cuban talks conducted under a 1994 agreement aimed at ensuring safe and legal migration.
The talks at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York were marked by disagreement on each point raised, Cuban officials said. The two sides even differed on whether this was the 19th such meeting, as Washington insisted, or the 20th, according to Cuba.
Rafael Dausa, head of the Cuban delegation, accused Washington of violating the 1994 accord through its ‘‘wet foot, dry foot’’ policy of automatically granting residence to Cuban boat people able to make land across the Florida straits.
Washington was also failing to meet a vow to let at least 20,000 Cubans a year migrate legally to the United States, cutting back so far in 2003 to just 1,200 visas, he said.
President Fidel Castro, in power since a 1959 communist revolution, has said the recent firing-squad executions of three men who hijacked a ferry to try to reach the United States was necessary to stop a mass exodus encouraged by the U.S. policy of granting Cubans automatic residence.
‘‘If the United States were to return hijackers to Cuba, this would eliminate the problem,’’ Dausa told a news conference.
‘‘Plane hijackers that have committed terrorism and put people lives in danger enjoy impunity in the United States,’’ Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said in Havana. ‘‘I expect greater commitment by the United States in collaborating in a matter that benefits the stability of both countries.’’
But Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, said the problem was Havana’s, not Washington’s.
‘‘If the government of Cuba were open and democratic, its citizens would be able to freely travel and operate in an open-market system and would not be eager to leave, whether legally or illegally,’’ Grenell told Reuters.
He said the U.S. delegation had given the Cuban officials the names of 636 Cubans who had been granted visas by the United States but had not been allowed to leave by Cuba.
Dausa said he would check out the list but in the past, ‘‘the vast majority’’ of those on such lists had been found to have already migrated or were in the process of doing so.