Department Press Briefing – January 4, 2023
QUESTION: Switching topics. Cuba. The embassy I believe today resumed visa operations for immigrants. What does this say both – does this have any implications more broadly for relations with Cuba? And also, what does it say about Havana Syndrome – so-called Havana Syndrome that was the original reason for reducing staff levels there? Is there a perception that there’s no longer the same threat level, at least in Havana?
MR PRICE: A couple things on this. So as you mentioned, starting today, the U.S. Embassy in Havana is processing all immigrant visa categories in addition to current services provided in Cuba, which include American citizen services as well as official diplomatic and emergency non-immigrant visas. This is a significant step in the restoration of consular services in Havana. It means all Cuban immigrant visa applicants scheduled for interviews starting this month will no longer have to travel to Georgetown, Guyana, where processing was taking place. Immigrant visa applicants whose appointments were originally scheduled in Georgetown, Guyana must still complete case processing in Guyana. Those cases will not be transferred to Cuba, but going forward new cases will be processed from our embassy in Havana.
The embassy began expanding consular services in May of 2022 by expanding immigrant visas for parents of U.S. citizens, and in July of 2022 expanded to include all other categories of immediate relatives – relative immigrant visas, including spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens as well. Additionally, in August of last year DHS resumed processing cases in Havana under the Cuban Family Reunification Program. The – we remain committed to facilitating the safe, orderly, and regular migration of Cuban citizens to the United States.
To the first part of your question, what this speaks to when it comes to our broader approach to Cuba, I think it makes real what we have consistently said that we seek to find practical ways to support the Cuban people. As I said just a moment ago, this visa processing, much of it is directed in very practical ways to support the Cuban people, including through family reunification. That has been a focus of our visa processing since the start of this administration. It will continue to be a focus now.
When it comes to anomalous health incidents, we have reviewed our staffing posture at our embassy in Havana at the direction of the President, and we’re exploring options to augment staffing to facilitate diplomatic, consular, and civil society engagement with an appropriate security posture, as we do around the world. Our top priority remains the health of – and safety of U.S. citizens overseas, including of course our diplomats and their family members, and we’re working to get to the bottom of anomalous health incidents and to provide top-notch care and support to everyone affected.
The investigation into what has caused these incidents and how we can protect our people is ongoing. And this represents a major effort that is underway within the interagency – among the White House, the Defense Department, Intelligence Community, as well as Congress and leading scientists, all with the input of the State Department, of course.
So the fact that we have been able to augment our staffing posture at our embassy in Havana is a signal that we are confident in our ability to mitigate the risks, confident in our ability to take prudent steps to protect our people. But this is something we evaluate and re-evaluate on a – virtually a daily basis.
QUESTION: Just briefly, you say you’re confident about the – the State Department is confident about the ability to mitigate the risk, in the sense that it’s not – there’s not seen as a particular risk in Havana from anomalous health incidents as opposed to other places?
MR PRICE: Well, diplomacy is never a risk-free endeavor, and our goal— is never a risk-free endeavor.
QUESTION: What? Oh, “risk-free.” I thought you said “risky endeavor.”
MR PRICE: Yes. Yes, it is never a risk-free endeavor. And our intention is never to eliminate risk, because we know that’s impossible. Our goal is to mitigate risk, and to conduct our operations responsibly, safely, taking into account all of the prudent precautions that are necessary in posts around the world. And that’s what we’re doing here.
QUESTION: But you’re – but just to be specific as to this, you’re looking to add people, not reduce people, to Havana?
MR PRICE: Over the course of the last year, we have —
QUESTION: No, I know, but now, from now —
MR PRICE: Yes, we have added people, and as we restart this visa processing out of our embassy in Havana, our intention, our hope will be to add people so we can expand those services that we’re able to provide from Havana.
Department Press Briefing – January 13, 2023
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Cuba?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s a high-level delegation that’s going to be visiting Cuba soon, U.S. delegation. Does that indicate that maybe relations with Cuba is becoming more normalized or we’re on the cusp of normalized relations with Cuba?
MR PATEL: Are you speaking about the law enforcement —
QUESTION: Law enforcement, international law and all that stuff.
MR PATEL: Yeah, sure, sure.
QUESTION: But I’m sure that they will probably discuss —
MR PATEL: Said, let me – if you’ll let me offer some broader thoughts. So to – for those that might be tracking, U.S. and Cuban officials will meet as part of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue in Havana next week to discuss topics of bilateral interest on international law enforcement matters, increased international law enforcement cooperation, and this is an opportunity to enable the U.S. to better protect U.S. citizens and bring transnational criminals to justice.
The Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security will co-chair the dialogue for the United States. And broadly speaking, Said, to your question, improved law enforcement coordination between the United States and Cuba is in the best interest in the United States and the Cuban people. And during the dialogue, the U.S. and Cuba will address topics of bilateral interest.
QUESTION: I had a follow-up on the question on Cuba.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So you said that this meeting on law enforcement issues is in the best interest of the United States. Would you consider that it would be now in the best interests of the United States to actually normalize relations with Cuba?
And then second, so there’s this meeting on law enforcement issues, criminality, transnational, etc., but the United States still has Cuba on the supporting terrorism list, on its list of supporting – states supporting terrorism. How do you justify having that meeting in Cuba while the country is still on your official list of sponsoring terrorism?
MR PATEL: Can you repeat the second part of your question, Leon? Sorry.
QUESTION: Basically how do you justify having this kind of meeting on specifically law enforcement issues in general while at the same time keeping the country on the terrorism list?
MR PATEL: Well, Leon, there continue to be, obviously, concerns and human rights concerns that exist. But I would say broadly, to widen the aperture a little bit, Leon, following the large-scale protests that we saw last summer, President Biden directed the department to act in two primary areas. The first was to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced previously several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights violations.
Specifically within the context of these – this dialogue, let me see if I have some more information for you. But as I said, engaging in these talks underscores our commitment to pursuing constructive discussions with the Government of Cuba where appropriate to advance U.S. interests.
Our belief is, is that establishing and increasing channels for law enforcement cooperation to better address transnational threats is not at the expense of the serious human rights concerns that we continue to have. And we’ve integrated these human rights concerns and protections into all of our interactions with the Cuban Government.
QUESTION: Vedant, isn’t the real answer that this administration does not agree with the previous administration’s determination to put Cuba back on the SSOT list, and that you’ve been looking for a way to take them off since —
MR PATEL: I don’t have any —
QUESTION: — coming into office —
MR PATEL: I don’t have any update to offer that —
QUESTION: — and therefore, that a law enforcement dialogue is not inappropriate, given what you believe is —
MR PATEL: Oh, a law enforcement dialogue is not inappropriate for a variety of reasons, including the ones that I just outlined.
department Press Briefing – January 19, 2023
QUESTION: I have a last one on Cuba. Since United States is having contact with the Cuban regime, is this administration thinking in withdraw Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism?
MR PATEL: I have no change in policy to announce. I addressed this a little bit last week; the engagements that you’re referring to were specifically related to some security dialogues, regional security dialogues. I don’t have any other updates to offer beyond that.
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