US says issued nearly 30,000 visas for Cubans this year

HAVANA, Cuba, (AFP) – The United States has issued nearly 30,000 visas to Cuban nationals since January under new entry rules aimed at braking illegal migration, according to deputy ambassador to Havana Benjamin Ziff.

Last year, some 300,000 Cubans made their way illegally to the United States.

In January, the US embassy in Havana resumed the issuing of visas for Cubans, four years after the mission was closed amid a series of mysterious "sonic attacks" on diplomatic staff.

Ziff would not say how many Cubans have applied for visas to date.

But he said the issuing of tourism and business visas remained on hold for now.

"I have less than a third of the staff that I had five or six years ago in the consulate section. Until I have a full staff, I can't do a full service," Ziff said.

"The Cuban government is not allowing us to get houses for our incoming consuls so we can't have more staff for consulate operations. And not allowing us to import materials to repair the embassy.

"It is actually more a logistical obstacle more than a policy obstacle," the envoy said.

Former US president Donald Trump had put an end to a policy of openness towards Cuba initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.

When Joe Biden took office in early 2021, he promised to review US policy toward Cuba. But his policies hardened following anti-government protests on the island in July 2021 and a subsequent crackdown on dissent.

Washington and Havana last year resumed talks on migration issues amid a steep rise in the number of Cubans fleeing the island in deep economic crisis.

Ziff said the number of illegal migrants making their way to Florida from Cuba has dropped in the last five months, from "dozens a day" to "dozens a week."

And he denied repeated accusations from Havana that US sanctions were responsible for the migratory flight.

"The Cuban government is responsible for the Cuban economy," he said.

"A democratic and prosperous Cuba depends on Cuba, not on the United States. Migration is not an economic issue. In Cuba, migration is pushed by a lack of hope."

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