U.S. and Cuba Wrangle over Visas, Goods Things are heating up between the United States and Cuba. Dagaberto Rodriguez, who represents Havana in Washington, says the latest diplomatic squabble stems from the United States issuing only half of the 20,000 visas targeted for Cubans. U.S. officials say Cuba is blocking U.S. shipments to Havana.
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U.S. and Cuba Wrangle over Visas, Goods

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U.S. and Cuba Wrangle over Visas, Goods

U.S. and Cuba Wrangle over Visas, Goods

U.S. and Cuba Wrangle over Visas, Goods

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12668635/12668636" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Things are heating up between the U.S. and Cuba.

As he welcomed reporters with Cuban coffee and cigars, the man who represents Havana in Washington, D.C., Dagoberto Rodriguez, explains why he is fuming these days. The U.S. agreed in 1994 to issue at least 20,000 visas a year for Cubans, and he says this year the number was only about half of that.

"This is a kind of encouragement to illegal migration," Rodriguez says. "On purpose or not, it is encouragement, and there is a history of the U.S. government using this issue as part of the political rift with Cuba."

By turning down visa requests, the U.S. is giving Cubans a green light to risk their lives to head to Florida in unsafe boats, Rodriguez says.

The state department has been quick to respond, saying it is the Cubans who are not keeping up their side of the deal. Deputy spokesman Tom Casey this week said Cuba has been blocking U.S. supply shipments and interfering in the work of the U.S. Interests Section, this country's diplomatic mission in Havana.

"There have been any number of instances over the last few months where vital equipment and supplies, personnel needed to repair some of the things in our Interests Section have been blocked or prevented from entry by the Cuban government," Casey says. "And that's made it very difficult for us to meet our obligations."

But Rodriguez, who heads Cuba's Interests Section in Washington, D.C., says that is not true.

"I must say that Pinocchio looks pale compared to those people when they talk about Cuba," Rodriguez says.

He says the U.S. has brought in tons of supplies, which should be enough visa application forms or whatever diplomats need to do their work. The problem is, he says, that the U.S. has also been bringing in money and supplies for Cuban opposition figures. And Cuba, he says, has the right to stop that.

"Instead of trying to promote transitions and overthrow governments, they should rather be analyzing why bridges are falling down and why 60 million Americans are without insurance," Rodriguez says.

But Washington shows no sign of backing off. Casey says the leading cause of misery in Cuba is Cuba's government.

"I think it's pretty clear by the demand for Cubans by Cubans to try and leave Cuba exactly what kind of a worker's paradise has been created over the last half-century by Fidel Castro," Casey says.

This is one diplomatic showdown with no signs of cooling off.