The Obama Administration’s recent announcement that the U.S. intends to renew migration talks with Cuba deserves praise. The talks, which were suspended under the previous Administration, not only serve the U.S. national interest, but also serve as an important diplomatic tool at a time when both Cuba and U.S. policy toward the island are undergoing important changes.

Current U.S. policy toward Cuba undermines important U.S. national interests and nowhere is this more evident than in the US’s unwillingness to hold bilateral talks with Cuba on important issues that are vital to its national security, such as: migration, drug interdiction and environmental issues. A staff report issued by Senator Richard Lugar earlier this year states that: “These talks provide an important venue for discussing the shared problem of illegal immigration.”

Critics have charged that the move “represents another unilateral concession to the Castro dictatorship,” in a continued effort to undermine any changes in US policy toward Cuba and maintain the status quo which has failed to produce any of its intended objectives in over four decades. Fortunately, proponents of maintaining the status quo represent a diminishing and increasingly isolated group. Their claim that holding bilateral talks on issues that are vital to US national security represents a “unilateral concession” to the Cuban regime is emblematic of the failed policy that has contributed to Cuba’s isolation and has done little to advance freedom on the island.

A migration crisis from Cuba has the potential of having a highly destabilizing effect on the US and especially the Florida peninsula. While economic and political conditions on the island will largely dictate migration patterns, migrations talks between the US and Cuba can help increase cooperation and lessen the threat of a mass migration crisis, curb illegal immigration and provide the US with an important venue to press Cuban authorities to live up to their commitments under the 1994 Migration Accords.   

For decades the word “dialogue” has carried a negative connotation in the Cuban-American exile community. For many, the idea of talking to representatives of the Cuban regime represented a betrayal of the democratic principles stripped by the revolution and a concession to the regime. But times have changed, and increasingly, members of the exile community understand that dialogue does not represent a concession, but rather on opportunity to press for issues that are in our national interest. A December 2008 Florida International University poll shows that 79% of Cuban-American respondents in South Florida favor direct talks between the US and Cuba on migration and other critical issues (including 72% of registered voters). Increasingly, Cuban-Americans have realized that the interests of the US and civil society in Cuba are best served when both sides engage in direct talks on issues of mutual concern. It is time that our elected officials came to the same realization.

In announcing its intention to renew migration talks with Cuba, the US Administration is acting unilaterally to protect US national security interests and in doing so is showing leadership on an issue long-plagued by politics and intransigence.  

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Date Title
6/16/09 Comments on U.S. Support for OAS Cuba Resolution
Tomas Bilbao, Latin America Advisor
6/8/09 Current Record