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October 2009
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Cuba allows U.S. access to jailed dual citizens

Posted on Thursday, 10.15.09
Cuba allows U.S. access to jailed dual citizens
While Cuba recently gave a State Department official permission to visit
jailed U.S.-Cuban citizens, restrictions remain in place.

WASHINGTON — Cuba recently gave a top State Department official a
long-blocked permission to visit dual U.S.-Cuban citizens jailed on the
island — but it did not accept a U.S. offer to relax travel
restrictions on each other's diplomats, El Nuevo Herald has confirmed.

The two issues, though relatively minor in the broad sweep of decades of
bilateral hostilities, underlined both the opportunities and limits for
improved relations facing the new governments of Barack Obama and Raúl

Havana's decision to allow the prison visits “reflect the benefits that
could accrue to both countries as a result of better communications and,
conversely, how our interests are poorly served when we don't
communicate,'' said Bob Pastor, the top Cuban expert in Jimmy Carter's

The State Department confirmed Wednesday that acting Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State Bisa Williams visited with jailed dual U.S.-Cuban
citizens there during her trip to Cuba last month to discuss a possible
resumption of direct mail services between the two nations. No further
details on the visits were available.

Like other countries, including the United States, Cuba does not
recognize dual nationalities. Cuba treats those cases as Cuban-only
citizens and regularly denies foreign consular officials on the island
access to the dual citizens jailed there.

State Department officials are known to have long been pressing for U.S.
consular access to the U.S.-Cuban citizens jailed in Cuba. “We hope the
U.S. consular access to dual nationals imprisoned in Cuba would be on a
continuing basis,'' the department said.

Cuba has imprisoned 19 U.S. citizens, including 10 or 11 believed to
also have Cuban citizenship, according to the State Department. Those
who have only U.S. nationality already receive consular visits. The
charges against both groups include migrant smuggling, drug trafficking
or possession, homicide and corruption of minors.

Requests for comment sent to the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington
were not answered. U.S. consular access to dual nationals jailed in Cuba
has long been a sensitive issue for both sides as American officials in
Havana sought to help U.S.-only citizens while trying to avoid any
spillover of the assistance to their Cuban-American prison mates.

In the 1990s, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana had a cardboard box
where officials dropped off reading and personal hygiene materials for
U.S. prisoners, said a mission employee at the time. But the U.S.
inmates could not pass the goods to their Cuban-American prison mates.

The U.S. proposal for a mutual easing of travel restrictions on
diplomats was made by the Bush administration and repeated after Obama
was sworn in, but Havana has not responded, the State Department confirmed.

Under current restrictions, each side must ask for permission for their
diplomats in Havana, Washington or the U.N. headquarters in New York
City to travel outside certain clearly limited areas — permissions that
are seldom approved, the official added.

Until 2001, Cuban diplomats could roam without restrictions within 25
miles of the White House. But after the FBI the Pentagon's top
Cuba analyst, Ana Belen Montes, as a Cuban spy that year, Cuban
diplomats were restricted to the area inside Washington's Beltway
freeway and a corridor to Dulles in Virginia.

U.S. diplomats in Havana generally have been restricted to the Havana
provincial limits. Consular officials from both countries have more
to travel because of international treaties that require host
nations to allow foreign consuls access to their citizens.

Cuba's permission for U.S. consular visits was one of the few friendly
gestures toward Washington that Havana is known to have made since Obama
began a string of efforts to improve relations with the communist-ruled
island — efforts that critics say are bound to produce little improvement.

“When the United States has stood tough, the Cubans have been a lot
more reasonable than when the U.S. has tried to accommodate them,'' said
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in
Arlington, Va.

Cuba allows U.S. access to jailed dual citizens – Americas – (15 October 2009)

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