Photo: Cubans Living in U.S. Meeting
The Cuban government this weekend broached the issue of immigration reform on the island during a videoconference held between Cuba and the United States as part of the first Meeting of Cubans Living in the United States.
From the island, Foreign Relations Vice Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez on Saturday discussed the “updating” of immigration policy that the government is working on and said that the changes are aimed at “reducing prohibitions and regulations” established at other times since the revolution.
“We know that many await with impatience the announcement, but we all must understand that this is about complex issues that imply multiple changes and legal arrangements,” said Rodriguez, the top Cuban official participating in the videoconference.
Some 118 Cuban-Americans went to the Swiss Embassy building in Washington where the Cuban Interests Section conducts its work in the United States, while in Havana a room at the Foreign Relations Ministry was made available with access for the press.
The Swiss Embassy building, with three floors and large rooms allowed the participants to spread out and hold multiple conversations that the spokesperson for the diplomatic mission described to Efe as “an internal meeting.”
During the videoconference, which lasted a little over an hour, the emigrants also received an explanation of the economic reforms the government of President Raul Castro is pushing forward with on the island and also a discussion of the five Cuban agents sentenced to prison in the United States for espionage.
They also had the opportunity to pose questions about the issues that were discussed, several of those questions dealing with the possibilities of investing in Cuba, something that would open up the so-called “updating” of the Cuban socialist model.
The press official at the Interests Section, Juan Jacomino, said that the first meeting of Cubans living in the United States with diplomats of his country, convened as part of the effort to push for the normalization of the relations between the island’s government and the exiles, would not be a meeting open to the press, but he did not rule out that at the end of it some kind of declaration of communique might be issued.
Cuban-American lawmaker and president of the U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen questioned the State Department for authorizing a visa to participate in the meeting to the director for North America of MINREX, Josefina Vidal.
In Havana, Vice Minister Rodriguez called the chance to address “such a select group of Cubans” an “honor” and recalled that not all those who wanted to participate could do so due to personal reasons or space considerations.
Rodriguez emphasized the importance of this initiative for continuing the “ongoing, fluid and respectful” dialogue of the Cuban government with the exiles, and he reviewed the historical circumstances of the political dispute between the island and the United States and how they have impacted the exile community.
“Each one has its own experiences in this long, painful, controversial process,” said Rodriguez, but he emphasized that the process of normalization in relations “has advanced a lot.”
He also said that all dialogue must be based on the “common decision” of defending values like the independence and sovereignty of Cuba and fighting against the economic blockade that Washington has been enforcing against the island for more than 50 years.
He went on to say that in 2011 some 400,000 exiles traveled to Cuba to visit relatives and undertake cultural, academic or business activities.
The Cuban Interests Section sent invitations to some 150 Cubans living in the United States for what it called “the first National Meeting for Unity and Policy Change toward Cuba.”
The invitation letter, which doubled as a unique ticket to attend the meeting in the building on 16th Street in Washington, some two kilometers (1 1/4 miles) north of the White House, makes reference to “more than half a century of arbitrary policy of the United States toward Cuba,” including the “criminal economic embargo.”