WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Cuba on Thursday held their highest-level diplomatic talks in four years after a severe disruption in ties during the Trump administration.
Discussions in Washington between senior State Department officials and Cuba’s Deputy Secretary of State focused on migration, with the US side seeking to stem a growing number of Cubans attempting to enter the United States illegally.
The State Department said the talks covered areas of successful cooperation on migration but also identified barriers to ensuring safe, orderly and legal migration. The meeting came just a day after US border officials reported that the number of Cubans applying for entry doubled to 32,500 from February to March, five times the number in October.
“We have seen, and I think this underscores the need to have these talks, that there is a significant increase in irregular migration among some of the Cuban migrants coming to the United States,” the State Department spokesman said. Ned Price, to reporters.
“Participating in these talks underscores our commitment to holding constructive discussions with the government of Cuba where appropriate to advance U.S. interests,” the ministry said in a statement. The statement added that the US has also addressed issues related to the operation of its embassy in Havana, which has been severely curtailed from 2017 after unexplained health issues emerged among some employees.
Cases of the so-called “Havana Syndrome” became a major issue during the Trump administration, which also pushed back the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba initiated by former President Barack Obama.
President Joe Biden, who had supported Obama’s efforts when he was his vice president, was expected to restore some of the Obama-era initiatives that Trump had rolled back. But he has yet to do so, and US restrictions on Cuba remain at the level Trump restored them to. Migration talks between the two countries have not been held since 2018.
Regarding migration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday it stopped Cubans more than 79,800 times from October through March — more than double the number in 2021 and five times the number for all of 2020. Overall, the CBP Migrants of all nationalities stopped more than 209,000 times in March, the highest monthly mark in 22 years.
The Biden administration has leaned on other administrations to do more to stop migrants from reaching the United States, most recently during a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas this week to Panama.