The Miami Herald
Fri, May. 14, 2004

Few may attend migration talks

Tougher restrictions on travel to Cuba may discourage attendance at a scheduled migration conference in Havana this month.


Cuban Americans who planned to attend a Havana conference on migration issues may be forced to stay home because of new travel restrictions imposed by the Bush administration.

The conference on ''The Nation and Emigration,'' scheduled for May 21-23, was expected to draw scores of Cubans living abroad, most of them in the United States, who favor easing the U.S. embargo on the island.

The conference, the third of its type since the early 1990s, is sponsored by the Cuban government and participants attend at the invitation of the Cuban Foreign Ministry to discuss issues affecting Cubans who live abroad.

Under U.S. sanctions on Cuba, all U.S. residents are required to get special permission to travel to Cuba.

Cuban Americans have an easier time of it under special provisions for family reunification visits. But President Bush's decision last week to tighten the travel restrictions will make it difficult for Cuban Americans to attend the Havana conference.

Under the new restrictions, visits are no longer allowed to distant relatives such as a cousins -- one of the ways in which many Cuban Americans have been visiting the island legally.

A State Department spokesman said he suspects Cuban Americans who attended previous conferences reported that they were going there to visit family and did not apply for the special license required to attend conferences in Cuba.

''The regulatory basis has been in place for years,'' the spokesman said. ``The people may have failed to comply.''

Cuban Americans who don't have close relatives on the island and other U.S. residents must seek special permits to visit the island, such as those issued for business and humanitarian trips.

But any conferences in Havana that U.S. residents wish to attend must be a legitimate international event, not just a Cuban ''production,'' the State Department spokesman said.

The Cuban government sponsors various conferences and labels them international, but that doesn't necessarily make them truly international, said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified.

The new measures restrict Cuban Americans' travel to Cuba to one trip every three years, instead of once a year. They also rule out visits to distant relatives, such as cousins, previously allowed.