By VANESSA ARRINGTON | Associated Press Writer
America’s top diplomat to Cuba said on Wednesday the United States has fulfilled its commitment this year to grant permanent immigration visas to at least 20,000 Cubans, and it was now Cuba’s turn to honor its obligations under migration accords.
“We’ve done our part,’’ said James Cason, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
The migration accords were established in the mid-1990s to promote legal, orderly migration between the two countries. Under the agreement, the United States must provide at least 20,000 visas to Cubans annually, and Cuba is to discourage its citizens from making risky attempts to immigrate illegally to the United States.
Cason complained that a lack of access by the American mission to the government-controlled Cuban press keeps people uninformed about safe ways to migrate. He called Cuban claims that the United States wants to provoke a mass migration crisis “totally false.’’
The United States will continue granting visas to as many other Cubans as possible this year in order to provide a safe, legal way off the island, he said.
“We want to publicize this, to let them know we’re here, and that you don’t have to go by sea,’’ Cason said.
Thousands each year leave communist Cuba by small boat, raft and even car tire, in hopes of reaching the United States. It is not clear how many of them die during the journey, though Cason said less than a thousand a year make it to U.S. shores.
Under the U.S. wet-foot, dry-foot policy, Cubans intercepted at sea are typically returned, while those who reach land are usually allowed to stay.
Cason said Cuban authorities should allow American diplomats to visit repatriated migrants in the countryside to monitor whether they are being penalized, as well as accept the return of all Cuban nationals the United States wants to deport.
He called on Cuba to grant the United States the use of a deeper port in Cuba for repatriations, which would allow the U.S. Coast Guard to use its larger vessels to return migrants, freeing up smaller ones for patrols.
The U.S. Interest Section issued its 20,000th immigration visa on July 16. This year, in a fiscal period ending Sept. 30, it hopes to surpass the 21,075 visas granted through the end of September last year.
Some 250,000 Cubans have moved to the United States under the migration accords, Cason said.
Cubans “have no hope,’’ he said. “They don’t believe in the revolution. They have a failing economic system. They have no political freedoms. They want to leave.’’
The United States suspended formal U.S.-Cuba migration talks in January, saying Cuba refused to discuss key issues.