Cuba Says U.S. issuing visas too slowly

Cuba chided the United States on Tuesday for being too slow to issue visas to Cubans wanting off the island.

Cuba Says U.S. issuing visas too slowly

The Foreign Relations Ministry indicated the dearth of visas for Cubans could be part of what it sees as President Bush's efforts to destabilize the communist government and warned it could lead to a spike in illegal immigration.

Under a 1994 agreement, Washington uses a lottery system to grant up to 20,000 Cubans permission to emigrate to America each fiscal year ending Sept. 30. But Cuba's government said Tuesday that through June 30, only 10,724 Cubans had been granted visas -- just 53.6 percent of the annual minimum.

"It is evident a considerable delay exists," the ministry said in a statement published on the front page of the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

"Why would (the United States) want to make the migratory situation worse between both countries?" the statement asked, accusing Bush of wishing Fidel Castro would die and being desperate to "force the 'changes' he wants to impose on Cuba, even when they give rise to a situation of instability that will surely also affect the United States."

Castro, who turns 81 next month, has not been seen in public since announcing that emergency intestinal surgery was forcing him to step down in favor of a provisional government headed by his younger brother Raul. Life on the island, however, has remained little-changed.

The U.S. and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations but maintain interests sections -- instead of embassies -- in each other's territories. A spokesman at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

It is not unusual for U.S. authorities to wait until close to the end of the fiscal year to issue the minimum number of Cuban visas, however, and the State Department has in the past accused Cuba of manipulating the process.

Some Cubans who get U.S. visas are denied exit permits by Havana, which arbitrarily deems them "defectors," the State Department says. Cuba also regularly refuses to allow doctors and other medical professionals to leave even if they have visas.

The U.S. further claims that Cuba collects an estimated $12 million per year in fees for exit permits and medical examinations that some U.S.-bound migrants have difficulty paying.

A U.S. policy that grew out of the 1994 immigration agreement is the so-called "wet foot/dry foot," where by Cubans who are interdicted at sea are generally returned to their homeland, while those who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay.

Cuba says the policy encourages its citizens to seek risky and illegally ways to emigrate. Thousands of Cubans attempt to leave the island on makeshift rafts or people smugglers' speedboats bound for America every year.

The Foreign Ministry went on to "insist" that the United States issue at least 20,000 visas before the deadline, scrap "wet-foot/dry foot" and "cease the manipulation of this topic for political ends." It also demanded that Washington, "end the incessant subversive propaganda and psychological war against Cuba."

AP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 17 Temmuz 2007, 18:51
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