US Embassy in Cuba resumes consular, visa services after 5-year hiatus

Havana, Jan 4 (EFE).- The US Embassy in Cuba on Wednesday resumed providing consular and visa processing services after a hiatus of more than five years, a period that began during the Republican administration of Donald Trump.

Interviews for those interested in obtaining an immigration visa for the United States were resumed on Dec. 29.

The announcement of the resumption in assorted services was made in early November after a meeting in Havana between US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Rena Bitter and the director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security, Ur Mendoza Jaddou, with Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio.

Months earlier, Washington has said that the visas provide a “safe and orderly” means to emigrate to people eligible to request them.

The resumption of operations comes after several months of timid rapprochement between Washington and Havana, during which migration has been a central issue.

In addition, it comes amid the greatest exodus of Cubans to the US in recent history. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2022, 290,338 Cubans arrived in the US across the border with Mexico, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard apprehended at least 6,182 Cubans off the Florida coast between Oct. 1, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022, when the last fiscal year ended.

The US government during this period issued 23,966 visas to Cub ans. Washington, for the first time since 2017, did not abide by the 1994 bilateral migration accord, which stipulates that it would issue 20,000 visas annually to citizens of the communist island.

Up until the resumption of operations at the US diplomatic seat in Havana, Cubans had been forced to make their emigration arrangements in Guyana, which implied an extra economic cost that many were unable to afford.

Simultaneously, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been increasing its personnel in Havana to be able to “effectively and efficiently” handle the expected number of cases and conduct visa interviews.

On Sept. 1, 2022, the US Embassy in Cuba began handling pending requests in the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) program, which had been suspended in 2017.

The halt in embassy operation began after unexplained health problems were detected in US personnel at the embassy.

Then-President Trump accused the Cuban government of being responsible for “acoustic attacks” on diplomatic workers posted to the island, using that as a pretext to end the “thaw” in bilateral relations launched by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama and former Cuban President Raul Castro.

Meanwhile, Havana denied any responsibility for the health issues and set up a commission of experts who ostensibly found no scientific or criminal evidence linking the symptoms being shown by embassy personnel with potential sonic, microwave or other deliberate attacks.

Over a number of months, more than 200 US diplomats and other staffers posted in half a dozen countries – including Cuba and China – complained of similar symptoms, which had become known as “Havana Syndrome,” with some of them being unable to continue performing their duties.

In January 2022, the US Central Intelligence Agency ruled out that the symptoms were the result of a campaign directed against US diplomatic personnel by a foreign adversary, contrary to speculation up to that point.

EFE –/bp

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