Cuba's foreign minister on Saturday announced changes to the island's immigration policies, seeking to strengthen ties with the 800,000 Cubans living outside the country amid strained relations with Washington following accusations that U.S. diplomats suffered mysterious sonic attacks in Havana.
Speaking to a group of Cubans residing in the United States, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the new rules go into effect as of Jan. 1, and blamed the United States for creating unjust obstacles in its visa department by expelling Cuban embassy personnel.
Rodriguez said the foreign ministry will authorize the entry and exit of expatriate Cubans through two tourist ports and allow the return of nationals who left the country illegally, except those who departed from the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. He also said the children of Cubans residing outside the country and those born in foreign countries will be able to obtain Cuban citizenship and identification documents.
"The government of the United States closes and Cuba opens" doors, Rodriguez said.
Cuba's government relaxed its migration policy in 2013, when it canceled the requirement that island residents apply for an exit permit to travel abroad.
Rodriguez said that by reducing its diplomatic presence and suspending the issue of visas in Havana, Washington was hurting the ability of Cuban families to visit their relatives in the U.S. He said the new requirement that Cubans must travel to the U.S. consulate in Colombia to handle their visas through personal interviews represents an insurmountable obstacle in many cases.
"To Cuba, it is unacceptable and immoral that the U.S. government has decided to take political decisions that harm the Cuban people," he said.
Washington removed 60 percent of its staff from the island, expelled Cuban diplomats from the U.S., restricted the issuance of visas and required that travelers to Cuba be told that diplomats had suffered attacks with an unknown sonic weapon that caused them temporary deafness or permanent, nausea, concussion and other symptoms.
Rodriguez called reports of the sonic attacks "totally" false and "a political manipulation aimed at damaging bilateral relations."