Washington and Havana Refine Their System To Intercept and Deport Rafters

Both parties seek to collaborate more in the exchange of information about fugitives and establish real-time communication between their border police

Dressed in white jumpsuits, flip-flops and wearing masks, the ’balseros’ land in Cuba /14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 April 2024 — Havana wants to tie up the loose ends of the migration issue with Washington, fine-tune the process of intercepting rafters in the Florida Straits, facilitate cooperation over crime, and create a “real-time” communication system between the border police of Cuba and the United States. These were some of the issues that, this Wednesday, the delegations of both countries discussed during the round of talks held in the U.S. capital. An official of the State Department told Martí Noticias, on condition of anonymity, that these issues – to which the statement of the Cuban Foreign Ministry on the meeting does not specifically refer – point above all to the legal sphere and immigration fraud.

“The effective cooperation in criminal matters can sometimes include exchange, such as information about fugitives and other wanted people, or real-time communication between the United States Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Guard to detect people smugglers or drug traffickers,” the official explained.

These are “routine discussions,” but they are aimed at strengthening the collaboration between Havana and Washington, although the Cuban side declares that the United States refuses to talk about what really interests them: the embargo, to which it attributes the causes of the immigration stampede.

The U.S. delegation was also interested, says the official, in the security of Washington diplomats in the Cuban capital

The U.S. delegation was also interested, says the official, in the security of Washington’s diplomats in the Cuban capital. “Establishing and increasing channels of police cooperation to better address transnational threats is not at the expense of promoting respect for human rights,” he concluded.

In a press release about the talks, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Deputy Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío was in charge of presiding over the Island’s delegation and talking with Eric Jacobstein, Deputy Undersecretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States.

According to Fernández de Cossío, the meeting served to “review the state of compliance with the bilateral Migration Agreements” and for Cuba to express “its concern about the policies and measures to stimulate irregular migration that remain in force by political decision of the U.S. Government.”

Along with the ’blockade’*, Fernández de Cossío was tasked with discussing with Washington the “permanence of the country on the so-called List of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” in addition to the “preferential treatment” that, in the opinion of the Foreign Ministry, is given to the many Cubans who “illegally” enter the United States.

Despite the disagreements expressed by the Cuban side, the truth is that the mechanism of deportation of rafters caught on the high seas is well greased. The continuous reports of the U.S. Coast Guard, which publishes not only the number of migrants it arrests but also photos of the precarious boats with which they flee the Island, attest that the Joe Biden Administration is completely engaged in the fulfillment of its dealings with Havana.

So far in April, according to the Border Patrol, 47 rafters whose return is imminent have been intercepted. Local authorities, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are also in tune with Havana in that sense: “We do not tolerate illegal immigration, much less anarchy at the hands of illegal foreigners.”

Cubans, for their part, have become accustomed to the notifications of deportation that are often published by the official press, which always contain deterrent warnings for those who plan to jump into the sea.

Cubans, on the other hand, have become accustomed to the notifications of deportation that are often published by the official press

On a personal level, for the frustrated rafters, the failure of their entry into the United States and their deportation represent a mark on their record with the Cuban Police, who do not lose track of them on their return. Photographs published by the official press and international agencies show how the process unfolds.

Dressed in white jumpsuits, flip-flops and wearing masks, they are received in the port – often that of Orozco, in Artemisa – by a group of soldiers, doctors and agents of the State Security. The “module” of clothes, which the United States delivers to them before returning to the Island, is the only thing they wear when they arrive at the Immigration office of Factor and Final, in Nuevo Vedado, Havana, where they are processed.

Usually they leave the facilities without money, and they appeal to the residents in the vicinity to be able to return to their homes or, if they do not have one, to the home of a family member. Factor and Final, an office previously open to the public for immigration procedures, is now the return door for the deportees. There, after closing the narrow alley to avoid curious glances, the rafters arrive in buses and with police escort.

*Translator’s note: There is, in fact, no US ‘blockade’ on Cuba, but this continues to be the term the Cuban government prefers to apply to the US embargo. Originally imposed in 1962, the embargo, although modified from time to time, is still in force.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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