Top Cuban official says country open to more U.S. deportations, blames embargo for migrant exodus

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washington – The Cuban government is ready to accept more deportation flights from the US of Cuban migrants, who have traveled to the southern border in record numbers over the past three years, a senior Cuban official told CBS News in an exclusive interview.

After a two-year hiatus, the US restarted deportation flights to the island last year. Since then, the US has sent a flight of Cuban deportees to Havana every month.

But in an interview with CBS News this week, Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said Cuban officials are willing to host more than one flight a month.

“We are open to having more” deportation flights, said Fernández de Cossío, who visited Washington this week to meet with Biden administration officials for the latest round of migration talks between the two countries.

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the US and Cuba have had a deeply contentious relationship. The Cold War-era rivals still disagree on many issues, from Cuba's human rights record and its ties to China and Russia to the decades-old US embargo on imports and Cuban exports.

But Washington and Havana have worked together on immigration, including through the signing of the 1994 US-Cuba migration accords, which officials from both nations are discussing this week. The two countries' work on immigration has intensified in recent years amid the record arrival of hundreds of thousands of Cubans at the US-Mexico border.

Since the start of fiscal year 2021, the US has processed more than 450,000 Cuban migrants at the southern border, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. The flow of Cuban migrants to the U.S. border has slowed since last year, when the Biden administration created programs that have allowed some Cubans to fly to the U.S. legally or appear at an official border crossing .

In this week's interview, Fernández de Cossío blamed the exodus from Cuba in recent years on the US embargo and other US policies, including the Cuban Adjustment Act of the 1960s, which created a special path to permanent residence in the United States for certain Cuban migrants. Only Congress can change this law.

Fernández de Cossío said the US “aims to destroy the Cuban economy” through its sanctions. He did not admit that Havana's economic mismanagement and repressive policies have also led Cubans to flee the island, as the US government has argued.

“You can talk about other factors, but if you have a consistent policy by the most powerful economy in the world to try to destroy the means of subsistence of an entire population, 11 million Cubans, it is logical to expect people, a segment of the population, wanting to leave the country,” he said.

In 2023, the US Department of Homeland Security assessed that “deteriorating economic conditions and political repression in Cuba continue to drive more and more Cubans out of their country.”

Fernández de Cossío also cited the lack of some legal channels for Cuban citizens to come to the US to cross the southern border illegally by Cubans.

He urged the State Department to resume processing tourist and short-term visas in Havana. The Biden administration restarted immigrant visa processing in Cuba, but applicants for short-term visas in Cuba still have to travel to a third country to process their cases.

Fernández de Cossío said U.S. officials informed him they would resume full visa processing in Cuba in the future.

State Department representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Fernández de Cossío's statements.

Fernández de Cossío expressed some concern about additional US sanctions if former President Donald Trump is elected in November. During Trump's term, the US took a more aggressive stance toward Cuba, reversing the Obama administration's attempt to normalize relations with Havana.

“Of course, we are concerned if there are additional economic measures [against] Cuba, regardless of who wins the election. The Biden administration has very faithfully applied the policies established by the Trump administration and added some,” he said. “So we wouldn't do that. [be] surprised they did. It would be unfair, and we think it would be immoral, but we have to admit that it would happen and [it] it gives us room for concern.”



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