US and Cuba migration talks resumed amid calls for Cuba to rejoin OAS

US-Cuba Ice Cap

The Obama administration has proposed high-level meetings on migration between the United States and Cuba, which marks the clearest signal so far towards normalization of relations between the two countries. The move comes amidst an intensification of pressure from Latin American governments to have Cuba rejoin the Organization of American States. A State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, said, “We intend to use the renewal of talks to reaffirm both sides’ commitment to safe, legal and orderly migration; to review recent trends in illegal Cuban migration to the United States; and to improve operational relations with Cuba on migration issues.” These meetings on migration are not new, as they used to take place regularly every two years. They were stopped by the Bush administration in 2004 and their renewal is being widely interpreted as an indication that the Obama administration intends to move towards closer relationships with the island. Sarah Stephens, an expert on Cuba policy, praised the move, saying, “It is a signal not just to Cuba but also to the region that we’re leaving behind our policy of isolation and moving in the direction of engagement.”

The announcement has been denounced by three members of Florida’s congressional delegation — Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart — who have been adamantly opposed to any rapprochement to Castro’s Cuba. They see the renewed talks as “another unilateral concession by the Obama administration to the dictatorship.”

The United States, however, is coming under increasing regional pressure to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba and those tensions have manifested themselves most clearly in the Organization of American States, which is scheduled to meet on June 2. A majority of the organization’s members is expected to support lifting a provision that was used to expel Cuba from the organization in 1962, citing its alliance with “the Communist bloc” that broke “the unity and solidarity of the hemisphere.” The US has reiterated its commitment to keeping Cuba out of the OAS “until it demonstrates a willingness to adopt the democratic principles that are a part of the organization’s charter.” Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the committee that approves foreign assistance programs, has said he will withhold American financing to the O.A.S. — which amounts to about 60 percent of its budget — if it invites Cuba to rejoin.

Administration officials reiterated this week a long-term American determination to keep Cuba out of the organization José Miguel Insulza, the organization’s secretary general, said in an interview that the proposal to lift the 1962 provision was not aimed at immediately readmitting Cuba, but that the provision reflects a cold war reality that no longer exists. Cuba is the sole Communist government in the hemisphere, and yet it has diplomatic relations with every nation in the region except the United States. “The United States’ effort to isolate Cuba for nearly five decades has not produced free and fair elections. It is time,” Mr. Insulza said, “to try a new way.”

For more see the story in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/world/americas/23cuba.html?ref=americas

The cartoon above is by Mark Keefe for the Denver Post and can be found at http://www.denverpost.com/keefe/ci_12164933

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