New Cuba-U.S Migration Talks Set To Begin Monday

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - Senior Cuban and U.S. officials are to meet in Havana on Monday for a day of talks on the issue of illegal immigration -- people who flee the communist-run island for freedom in the United States.

The two sides last discussed the issue in September, three months after Elian Gonzalez was returned to Cuba.

The talks on illegal immigration have been going on for five years, with the Castro government blaming U.S. immigration policy for the exodus of "boat people" from Cuba.

Cuban leaders point to the Cuban Adjustment Act - signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 - as the root of the problem. The Cuban Adjustment Act grants American citizenship to Cubans who reach U.S. shores, and the Castro government says that prompts many Cubans to make dangerous boat trips across the Florida Straits.

U.S. officials say the exodus stems from Cuban policies. They say Cubans choose to leave home because they are dissatisfied with the economic and authoritarian policies of the Castro government.

On another area of disagreement between the U.S. and Cuba, the Cuban American National Foundation has denounced Castro's threat to cut telephone communications with the United States. Castro made the threat, after the United States rejected Castro's proposed surtax on telephone rates. The CANF says those rates already are among the highest in the world.

CANF Executive Vice President Dennis Hays says the threatened surtax reveals the "real Fidel Castro."

"Just as we are entering this holiday season, he is prepared to summarily cut what has become a vital emotional link between Cuban families to avoid facing up to his culpability in the death of U.S. citizens. The measure of his contempt for the needs of the Cuban people has been put on full display," Hays said.

Castro's surtax demand came after the Clinton administration earlier this year decided to use money from frozen Cuban funds to compensate the families of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots shot down and killed in 1996 over the Florida Straits. The Castro government responded by announcing it would add a 24-cent-a-minute surtax to the $1.20-per-minute long-distance rate between the U.S. and Cuba to compensate for lost revenue.

Hays called the surtax "illegal," and he said the Clinton administration was right to reject it.

"If Castro responds by unilaterally cutting off the phone service, then it should be clear that Cuba's isolation is the result of his conscious decisions and his only. This is blackmail by a criminal conspiracy, and to go along with it will only invite more outrageous demands in the future," Hays said.