The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America says Washington is not at all clear on how the migration reforms announced by Cuba this week will affect the United States or many other countries.
“We don’t yet know how those changes that were announced are going to be implemented,” Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said Thursday at the Foreign Press Center in Washington.
“It is, of course, of great interest to … policy makers at the State Department and elsewhere throughout the U.S. Government what the change means, how it will be implemented, and what we may need to do to respond to that,” Jacobson added.
Cuba announced Tuesday that as of Jan. 14 it would no longer require the hated exit permits for citizens travelling abroad, but the 31-page Official Gazette that included the legal wording on the changes left many questions unanswered.
“If you remove the exit permit but you require Cuban citizens to revalidate their passports, the question is: Will everyone get a passport back and therefore be free to travel, or will there still be controls?” said Jacobson.
She added that it was too early to determine whether the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana might need additional personnel to handle any increases in visa applications, but made it clear that the migration reforms might impact many countries.
“I want to stress, this is certainly not something that impacts only the United States; there are lots of other countries that will be impacted by this,” Jacobson added. Russia and Belarus, for instance, do not currently require entry visas for Cuban tourists.
Jacobson also noted that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights requires governments to recognize their citizens’ right to travel freely, a right “that we have certainly long sought for Cuban citizens along with all others in the world.”
“So it is a good thing that it is being announced, that some of the restrictions on Cubans to travel hopefully will be reduced, if not done away with,” she added.
Asked about the Obama administration policy on Cuba, Jacobson indicated that it is tied closely to the fate of Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana for illegally delivering satellite telephones to Cuban Jews.
“I certainly expect and hope that Alan Gross will come home as soon as possible,” she added according to a transcript of her comments.