WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department accused Cuba on Monday of systematically preventing Cubans holding U.S. visas from migrating to the United States, forcing many to try a high-risk escape by boat.
The charge was made in a diplomatic note that alleged Cuba has failed to abide by a 1994 agreement seeking to establish ground rules for the orderly migration of 20,000 Cubans plus family members to the United States.
"The Cuban government has consistently failed to take effective action in response to our continuing and legitimate humanitarian concerns," the note said.
The note was handed to Fernando Remirez, chief of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington. A copy was made available to The Associated Press.
There was no immediate reaction at the Cuban mission here.
The note says 117 Cubans from 57 families had been denied exit permits by the Cuban government in a recent 75-day period. All had been granted visas to migrate to the United States.
A senior State Department official said Coast Guard personnel recently have picked up an increasing number of fleeing Cubans who have U.S. travel documents. Established procedures require that Cubans intercepted by the Coast Guard be returned to the island.
The note said the recent death of two fleeing Cuban brothers "highlights the growing propensity of Cubans denied the means to migrate in a safe, orderly and legal fashion to risk their lives in desperate sea voyages." The brothers were victims of a shark attack in the Florida Straits.
According to the note, exit permits routinely are denied family members of Cubans who defect to the United States. "The Cuban government is punishing entire families, including small children, for the action of one family member," the note said.
A senior State Department official said these issues would have been raised in consultations the two countries have held on migration issues at roughly six-month intervals since the migration agreement was signed. The meetings have alternated between Havana and New York.
There have been no such sessions since December. Because Cuba has shown no interest in convening a meeting, the department arranged Monday's encounter with Remirez, said the senior official, asking not to be identified.
The official insisted that the meeting was motivated by Cuba's noncompliance with the 1994 agreement, implying that election-year politics was not a factor.
In the past, Cuba has been a popular target for both Republicans and Democrats in election years. As examples, economic sanctions against Cuba were tightened in the presidential election years of 1992 and 1996.
Over the years, officials said, Cuba generally had been living up to terms of the agreement but, as the diplomatic note suggests, that assessment has changed radically.
For its part, Cuba says the blame for the continuing deaths of fleeing Cubans is a 1966 U.S. law that allows Cubans who reach American soil to remain.
If arriving Cubans were repatriated back to the island, the temptation for Cubans to flee would evaporate, Cubans officials say.
The campaign against the law has picked up steam since the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba in June after a seven-month stay in the United States.
As Cuban officials see it, Elian's mother would have never tried to flee with him last November if the 1966 law, known as the Cuban Adjustment Act, were not on the books.
The 6-year-old boy lost his mother when their boat capsized, and nine others on board also died.
The Cuban government has organized rallies around the island denouncing the law. The Cuban government newspaper, Granma, called it "The Killer Law," in an Aug. 18 editorial.
The State Department says the Cuban position ignores the fact that Cubans wouldn't be trying to flee if conditions on the island were not so desperate.
But despite the State Department's complaints of Cuban obstructionism, officials acknowledge that the goal of 20,000 migrants per year has been met in recent years.
With Monday's diplomatic demarche, the two sides are now accusing each other of violating the first principle of the 1994 agreement. It says that both recognize their common interest in "preventing unsafe departures" from Cuba.
The U.S. diplomatic note says Cubans who hold U.S. visas are tempted to undertake such departures because of $600 exit fees, payable in dollars. The average salary in Cuba is in the $10-a-month range.
"It is ironic that the government of Cuba demands that the United States allow 20,000 Cubans to migrate to the United States each year and then demands exorbitant fees for exit permits or flatly denies exit permits to individuals who qualify for entry into the United States," the note says.
It also says Cuba has imposed "nearly insurmountable obstacles" to emigration by medical personnel.
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