U.S., Cuban Officials Wrap Up Law-Enforcement Talks in Havana

Guantanamo Bay, CUBA: The US flag flies above the Camp Delta Maximun Security area 06 December 2006 on the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Approximately 445 enemy combatants from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are in various security levels of lock-up. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Cubans seek to travel abroad to escape economic crisis in Havana
A vintage car passes by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, June 15, 2022. Picture taken on June 15, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA/WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) – A visiting U.S. delegation wrapped up two days of talks on law-enforcement issues with Cuban officials in Havana on Thursday, the two governments said following the first meeting of its kind since the previous Trump administration stopped such dialogue.

The talks, which included the State Department, Justice Department and Homeland Security – and their Cuban counterparts – as well as FBI and immigration officials and the Coast Guard, had been expected to focus on combating cybercrime, terrorist threats and drug and human trafficking.

“This type of dialogue enhances the national security of the United States through improved international law enforcement coordination,” the State Department said. But it stopped short of announcing any agreements between the Cold War-era foes.

Washington’s concerns about counterterrorism were among items on the agenda, U.S. officials had said.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the talks were mutually beneficial.

“Bilateral cooperation to confront scourges like terrorism, illegal trafficking of migrants and migratory fraud benefit both countries and we are committed to it despite the economic blockade and incessant hostility of the United States,” Rodiguez said.

Cuba’s Interior Ministry separately praised the meetings as taking place in a “climate of respect and professionalism.”

Shortly before his term ended in January 2021, President Donald Trump had placed Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Biden administration has been reviewing this since taking office.

This week’s meetings marked the revival of the law-enforcement dialogue, which was launched in 2015 under former President Barack Obama but was stopped in 2018 under Trump as he rolled back his predecessor’s historic detente with Communist-ruled Cuba.

President Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, has begun rolling back some of Trump’s policies but has maintained others, insisting the Cuban government must improve its human rights record after a crackdown on protests in 2021.

U.S. officials did not respond to a Reuters question whether the agenda included discussion of Cuba’s possible removal from the terrorism-sponsoring list. Cuba has called the designation a “slander” and false pretext to punish it economically.

Asked about the issue, a State Department spokesperson said: “After a careful review of all available information and intelligence, the Secretary of State will only designate or rescind SST designations after concluding that a country meets the relevant statutory criteria in accordance with applicable law.”

When asked whether the United States was considering delisting Cuba, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told a daily briefing he had “no change in policy to announce” and said the Havana talks were specifically security-related.

It was the first Biden administration delegation known to have traveled to the island this year and appeared to signal increased openness to engage on specific issues of mutual interest despite icy relations.

The State Department said “this dialogue does not impact the administration’s continued focus on critical human rights issues in Cuba.”

U.S. and Cuban officials last year held talks on migration as Washington sought to stem the flow of Cubans to the United States by land and sea.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bradley Perrett & Simon Cameron-Moore
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