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Cuban Journalist: U.S.-Cuba Talks on Migration Come as Ongoing Embargo Creates Economic Refugees

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We look at U.S. policy toward Cuba as U.S. and Cuban officials met Wednesday to discuss migration from the island. This January, the U.S. Embassy in Havana began processing immigrant visas for the first time in more than five years in an attempt to control the extent of undocumented migration from the island. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to face pressure to lift the embargo that has severely limited trade and more with Cuba for decades. We speak with Liz Oliva Fernández, award-winning Cuban journalist with the independent Cuba-based media organization Belly of the Beast who is in the U.S. to report on the economic and political interests driving Cuba policy under President Biden.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show looking at U.S. policy toward Cuba, as high-level U.S. and Cuban officials met Wednesday to discuss migration from Cuba. This comes after the U.S. Embassy in Havana started to process immigrant visas in January for the first time since 2017. It also comes as the Biden administration faces increasing calls to lift its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, and also the related embargo that severely limited trade and more with Cuba for decades.

For more, we’re joined by Liz Oliva Fernández, award-winning Cuban journalist with the independent media organization Belly of the Beast, based in Cuba but on tour here in the United States for screenings and events with director Reed Lindsay. They’re starting to work on a new documentary looking into the economic and political interests driving Cuba policy under President Biden.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Liz. If you can start off by talking about the significance of these negotiations, that are not getting very much attention, between Cuba and Washington that are happening this week here?

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Well, first, thank you, Amy, for having me in this program.

Well, of course that right now United States open to talk with Cuba about immigration, because you need to know that this is not only sanctions that you are putting against a country, this is economic warfare that the United States is playing with Cuba. So, right now this is having, in effect, boomerang effect in the U.S., because a lot of people from Cuba are coming to the United States. But they are not coming as political refugees. They are coming to the United States as economical refugees, because the situation in Cuba is pretty bad. So, that’s something that the United States government, the Biden administration, is facing right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the historic policy of the United States of allowing people to process normal visas through Cuba, what has been the policy in the past?

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Well, they have policies to visa for immigrants, like family reunification, they call it. But this is not something that they are doing. They have to process like 20,000 immigration visas a year, and they never did that. They never packed that numbers. They never filled that numbers, because the politics is trying to get the people in the United States, but in no about — in normal, in regular process, because when you have this kind of law, like adjustment law, they’re giving privilege to Cuba in order to come to the United States as refugees, but they say all the time that it’s about political refugees that are coming to Cuba, and that’s wrong. That’s inaccurate, because most of the people who come to this country from Cuba, they are coming as economical refugees, as I already said, because this is not something that is, like, from the last year or the 10 last years, this is something that is coming from the ’60s.

So, for example, I have been in crisis my entire life. My mom has lived in crisis in my entire life. The biggest cause of this crisis is the sanctions that the United States put against Cuba, is weighing against my country. That’s the result. That’s the consequence. So, maybe instead of talking about migration, I’d rather that the United States and my government have conversations about what is causing this migration, what is causing this wave, the huge wave in the last years, with migration. The cause is the sanctions. So, maybe in the future, the United States government, the Biden administration, have the will to talk about the real cause of these migrations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — as a journalist, you interviewed Elián González, the Cuban national who was at the center of an international custody battle as a child back in 1999. That’s a quarter-century ago. I remember going to Miami covering the protests of the Cuban exile community there, insisting that Elián stay here in the United States. But the Clinton administration returned him to Cuba, and he is — became a member of the Cuban Assembly? Could you talk about — of the National Assembly? Could you talk about your interview with him?

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Yeah, of course. I had the privilege to have this interview with Elián González. He is pretty glad to have a life in Cuba. Now he’s playing like a biggest role, because he’s really politically active, because he recently formed part of the Cuban Assembly. So, he’s really open to trying to do help from his seat in the National Assembly in Cuba to try to get to the point to the Obama normalization promise — normalizations between Cuba and the United States, sorry. And he’s willing to trying to get a better relationship between two countries, because he really believes that there is a better future for us, a future when people from the United States can have, like, normalized relationships.

AMY GOODMAN: Liz Oliva Fernández, we don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask you about this designation by the U.S. government of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism and the effect that that has, especially as Biden was vice president under Obama, who normalized relations, before Trump took that back.

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Yeah. Well, this state sponsor of terrorism list is like a death sentence for Cuba, because nobody wants to do business with terrorists. So, nobody — Cuba is not allowed to get credit, to get like people coming to my country to investment, because nobody wants to be related with a country that is called like a terrorist.

And this, for me, is really cynical and really hypocritical, because Cuba is not only open to the terrorists — there’s not only no financing terrorist attacks or acts around the world, it’s also a victim of terrorist attack. For example, before September 11, Cuba was so far the biggest terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere. And that’s really bad, because the people who perpetrated this attack had been living freely in the United States until their deaths. And Cuba doesn’t have its own terrorist list, a sponsor state of terrorism. But if we have this privilege that the United States has, like, “You are a terrorist, and you are a terrorist” — if Cuba had that kind of privilege, we can make, like, the United States the first name in that list.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Liz Oliva Fernández, award-winning Cuban journalist with Belly of the Beast, now touring the United States, a journalist in Cuba.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for a digital fellow. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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