Cuban colonel meets in Miami with U.S. officials

HAVANA,Feb. 5th A colonel in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior led a Havana delegation that met with U.S. officials in Miami this week on ways to battle human trafficking and migration fraud during a session at office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry reported in a statement that the island delegation was led by Col. Mario Méndez Mayedo, head of the Identification, Immigration and Foreigners department at the Ministry of the Interior. Other Cuban officials also participated in the talks.

The statement added that the U.S. delegation was made up of officials from Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement — both parts of Homeland Security — and the State and Justice Departments.

The U.S. government did not publicly acknowledge the meetings until after they had ended and Cuba had issued its statement on the talks.

A State Department statement Friday said the “technical” talks were held Monday through Thursday in Miami to exchange “information and best practices related to combating human smuggling and travel document fraud.”

Such exchanges are “important to advancing both countries’ commitment to ensuring safe, legal, and orderly migration,” the two-paragraph statement added.

Cuba’s statement added that the two countries had agreed on “the need to approve bilateral instruments to formalize exchanges in this area, with the goal of more effectively neutralizing people smugglers.”

It added that both countries had agreed to continue the talks and alternate their locations between the United States and Cuba.

The U.S. and Cuba are facing a new migration crisis that has stranded nearly 8,000 Cubans in Costa Rica. They are just starting to leave, thanks to an agreement among Central American nations to facilitate their transfer to the Mexican border with the United States.

The U.S. government has said little about the crisis, beyond restating that it fights human trafficking and that it will not change its policy toward Cuban migrants.

The arrival of Cuban migrants has been increasing since Havana eased restrictions on Cubans traveling abroad in 2013, and specially since President Barack Obama began easing U.S. sanctions on Cuba in December of 2014. More than 40,000 Cubans without visas entered the United States during the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 2015.

Four Cuban-American members of the Congress — South Floridians Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires — and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, met Thursday with Obama administration officials to discuss the Cuban migration crisis.

“Over the last several months, there has been a dramatic surge of people leaving the repressed island, yet it was only recently that the Obama administration acknowledged the problem,” the group said in a joint statement. “With an increase of 84% in the numbers of migrants reaching the U.S., it is critical that the administration has a credible plan to deal with the influx of migrants and the possible costs associated with their arrival.”

The Congress members also asked the administration to “collaborate closely” with local officials in South Florida “to ensure that the federal response to the migrant crisis provides the necessary support to manage the increase in population and potential additional burdens on local resources.”

Also present at the group’s meeting with officials from the State Department, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services were aides to Reps. Kay Granger, R-Texas., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fl, and to Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., Bill Nelson, D-Fl., and Bob Menendez, D-NJ.