Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Migration accords in trouble?

Cuba says the United States is poised to violate the 1994 immigration accords by failing to issue the agreed-upon 20,000 immigrant visas in the fiscal year that ends September 30.

The charge comes in a foreign ministry statement claiming that with 10,724 visas granted by June 30, the U.S. consulate in Havana is sure to fall short in the fiscal year’s final three months.

The U.S. Interests Section says it is “unable to issue 20,000 travel documents to Cuban nationals” because Cuba will not allow the United States to send enough personnel and supplies to Cuba, and will not authorize the hiring of local personnel to fill 47 jobs in the U.S. consulate.

A statement from the Interests Section says Cuba’s actions “raise new questions about the Cuban government's commitment to the Migration Accords.” It adds that “the U.S. Government remains fully committed to the Migration Accords’ goal of safe, legal, and orderly migration.”

That contrasts slightly with the policy stated in 2002 by the State Department spokesman that “the United States is committed to full implementation of the migration accords.” One wonders if the difference in phrasing is intentional. (The story on Radio Marti’s website says the U.S. is “fully committed” to both the accords and their goal.)

If Cuba is indeed blocking the personnel that the U.S. consulate needs to function, that would be a new and serious twist, and it would certainly undermine Cuba’s complaints about slow visa processing.

I can’t find data on how many immigrant visas have been issued in Havana in the past few years, but I did find a report (pdf) that shows that one part of the consulate – the refugee section – has been working at a fast clip. In the past three years, more than 12,000 refugee visas have been issued to Cubans.

Each side has perennial complaints about the other’s conduct under the migration accords. Cuba says that the United States, by admitting Cubans who arrive on U.S. shores, violates its commitment not to admit Cubans who arrive by “irregular” means. The United States says that Cuba will not permit a new visa lottery to create a pool of new applicants for immigrant visas, and that Cuba denies exit permits to some who hold U.S. visas.

My hunch is that in spite of the rotten state of bilateral relations, and in spite of serious spats over the specifics of the migration accords, the two sides will not walk away from the accords and will continue to abide by their basic elements.

The Cuban foreign ministry statement sees things differently; failure to issue the 20,000 visas would be a “gift” to the “Cuban American mafia and its representatives in Congress,” it says. It goes on to wonder about President Bush’s musings about Vaclav Havel’s thoughts about freedom, stability, and change in Cuba.

Can’t blame them for that – even paranoids have enemies, as the saying goes.

But the migration policy that draws complaints in Miami is not the granting of immigrant visas, but the return of migrants intercepted at sea. President Bush has consistently resisted appeals to change that policy, even in 2004 when he was seeking re-election.

And if someone is really suggesting now that a little instability in Cuba – say, of the type provoked by a U.S. policy that tells Cubans that if they are picked up at sea, the Coast Guard will bring them to America – would be a good thing, then there are a few other things to consider. Cuba could conceivably turn a crisis in the straits to its own political advantage. And such a crisis, with its uncertain political effect in Cuba, would surely cause instability in Florida, which will cast 27 electoral votes next year, either for a Democrat or for a Republican.

A longer discussion of migration issues from last year is here, and a 2001 study with detail on the migration accords is here (pdf).


leftside said...

It seems Cuba makes this claim every year around this time. It wakes the Interest Section up and they get hopping on processing applications - rather than fomenting counter-revolution. By September a flood of applications is approved and the 20,000 figure is usually met.

However this year it appears the US may be backing off that committment. In addition to the different wording you cited, the BBC notes that the US has claimed there is no solid requirement to meet the 20,000 figure. Of course any delay or question about the US' committment, has the effect of encouraging more illegal rafting migration, which any humane person would want to avoid.

Mambi_Watch said...

This spat over the migration accords is very annoying.

My question is why would Cuba (according to the US) sabotage the work at the US interests section that allows them to process visas?

According to the Miami Herald, the Cuban government is denying visas to US technical personnel, and "has refused to allow the mission to replace local staff that have left or retired."

Is this part of a sinister plan by the Cuban government? I'm sure some would think so, but what would be the motive?

According to Radio Mambi commentators, they see Cuba's charges as another sign of their impending overthrow (and weakness). They consider the migration accords as a temporary "release valve" that sustains the regime.

From what I heard, its seems that they couldn't care at all if the migration accords are fulfilled or not.

One commentator from WQBA (Oscar Haza) used this news as a possible sign of a new Cuban exodus.

In my opinion, they don't want a stable situation. It actually serves their interests to see and exhibit people sacrifice their lives for "freedom", namely American freedom. Once here, they can have all the radio and TV time to talk about their sacrifice.

Is this Cuba's plan? Or, does the US Interests Section not care about the migration accords like some in Miami, and has given us some lame excuses about visas?

leftside said...

Cuba has probably not allowed new US Interest Section personnel because they are normally up to no good. The US also heavily restricts Cuban diplomatic presence in the States.

It may also have something to do with the tit for tat diplomatic retaliation I recall a couple years ago when the US expelled several Cuban diplomatic personnel and then restricted them to travel only in New York and DC, I think. Cuba retaliated in kind.

Any alteration of the current poisened diplomatic relationship would need to be comprehensive.