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Top Cuban official says country open to more U.S. deportations, blames embargo for migrant exodus

Top Cuban diplomat on immigration and more
Top Cuban diplomat weighs in on immigration, Havana Syndrome and more 26:19

Washington — Cuba's government is willing to accept more deportation flights from the U.S. of Cuban migrants, who have traveled to the southern border in record numbers over the past three years, a top Cuban official told CBS News in an exclusive interview. 

After a two-year pause, the U.S. restarted deportation flights to the island last year. Since then, the U.S. has been sending one flight with Cuban deportees to Havana each month.

But in an interview with CBS News this week, Cuba's Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said Cuban officials are willing to accommodate more than one flight per month.

"We're open to having more" deportation flights, said Fernández de Cossío, who visited Washington this week to meet with Biden administration officials for the latest round of migration talks between the two countries.

Since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the U.S. and Cuba have had a deeply contentious relationship. The Cold War-era rivals still bitterly disagree on many issues, from Cuba's human rights record and its ties to China and Russia to the decades-long American embargo on Cuban imports and exports.

But Washington and Havana have worked together on immigration, including by signing the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, which officials from both nations are discussing this week. The two countries' work on immigration has intensified in recent years amid the record arrival of hundreds of thousands of Cubans to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since the start of fiscal year 2021, the U.S. has processed more than 450,000 Cuban migrants at the southern border, according to Customs and Border Protection data. The flow of Cuban migrants to the U.S. border has slowed since last year, when the Biden administration created programs that have allowed some Cubans to fly into the U.S. legally or appear at an official border crossing.

In the interview this week, Fernández de Cossío blamed the exodus from Cuba in recent years on the U.S. embargo and other American policies, including the 1960s Cuban Adjustment Act, which created a special pathway to permanent U.S. residency for certain Cuban migrants. Only Congress can change that law.

Fernández de Cossío said the U.S. is "aiming at destroying the Cuban economy" through its sanctions. He did not concede that economic mismanagement and repressive policies by Havana have also driven Cubans to flee the island, as the U.S. government has argued.  

"You can speak about other factors, but if you have a consistent policy by the most powerful economy in the world to try to destroy the livelihood of a whole population, 11 million Cubans, it is logical to expect people, a segment of the population, to want to leave the country," he said.

In 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security assessed that "Cuba's deteriorating economic conditions and political repression continue to increasingly drive Cubans out of their country."

Fernández de Cossío also cited the lack of some legal channels for Cuban citizens to come to the U.S. for illegal crossings along the southern border by Cubans.

He urged the State Department to resume the processing of tourist and short-term visas in Havana. The Biden administration restarted immigrant visa processing in Cuba, but short-term visa seekers in Cuba still have to travel to a third country to have their cases processed. 

Fernández de Cossío said U.S. officials informed him they would resume full visa processing in Cuba in the future.

Representatives for the State Department did not respond to requests to comment on Fernández de Cossío's remarks.

Fernández de Cossío expressed some concern about additional U.S. sanctions if former President Donald Trump is elected in November. During Trump's tenure, the U.S. had a more aggressive stance towards Cuba, reversing the Obama administration's attempt to normalize relations with Havana.

"Of course we're concerned if there are additional economic measures [against] Cuba, regardless of who wins the election. The Biden administration has very faithfully applied the policies put in place by the Trump administration and added some," he said. "So we would not [be] surprised they would do it. It would be unfair, and we believe it would be immoral, but we have to acknowledge that would happen and [it] gives us room for concern."

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