U.S. and Cuba resume talks on migration agreements
Relatives of Cuban migrants being held on a US Coast Guard cutter protest near the station July 11, 2006 in Miami, Florida [AFP]

Cuba and the United States held talks Thursday on compliance with a nearly two-decade-old agreement aimed at encouraging safe and legal migration, both sides said.

The Cuban foreign ministry said the talks, the second since the two countries resumed contacts on migratory issues last year, "took place in a respectful environment."

"An analysis was made of the status of compliance with the migration accords in force between both countries, including the actions taken by both parties to combat illegal migration and alien smuggling," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said Cuba had reiterated its long-held position that the root of the problem was a US law that automatically gives Cubans asylum if they reach US shores.

As long as the policy and law were in place, it said, "these phenomena would not be eradicated nor there could be a legal, safe and orderly migration."

An official with the US Interests Section in Havana confirmed that the talks began on schedule Thursday morning and would end on Friday.

The US delegation, which arrived in Cuba on Tuesday, was headed by acting deputy assistant secretary of state Edward Alex Lee while the Cuban side was represented by the head of the foreign ministry's US department, Josefina Vidal.

The talks center on the implementation of agreements reached in 1994 and 1995, after a crisis in which thousands of Cubans left the island in make-shift rafts in desperate attempts to reach Florida.

"Under those agreements, both governments are committed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States," a US spokesman said in Washington on Tuesday.

The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961, but bilateral matters are handled by offices in their respective capitals.

The talks come a month after US President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro shook hands in South Africa at a memorial ceremony for the late Nelson Mandela.

It also comes as more Cubans are travelling abroad under newly liberalized rules.

The foreign ministry said the Cubans updated their US counterparts on the new migratory policies and accords signed with other countries "aimed at regularizing reciprocal migration flows."

It also said they expressed their willingness "to continue exchanging on topics of mutual interests, given their importance for both countries."

Cubans made more than 250,000 trips abroad in the first 10 months of 2013 after longstanding restrictions on travel were eased.

About 36 percent of those were to the United States, where there is a large community of Cuban exiles.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]