New Cuba Policy Gets Mixed Response

Wednesday, September 1, 1999; 5:19 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Cuban decision to bar the return of migrants who left the country illegally is inconsistent with the internationally recognized right to travel freely, the State Department said Wednesday.

At the same time, spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States recognizes the right of every country to establish its immigration laws and to protect its borders.

Cuban officials have said the purpose of the new regulation is to discourage illegal migration from the island. The new policy could affect thousands of emigre Cubans who wish to visit friends and family members on the island.

The ban ends a previous Cuban policy of allowing those who left illegally to return after they have spent at least five years abroad.

The Miami Herald, which reported the development Wednesday, said some 110,000 Cubans living in the United States visit the island each year.

While calling the Cuban decision ``extreme,'' Reeker said the United States is ``extremely worried'' about a recent increase in the illegal smuggling of Cubans to the United States aboard speedboats operated by criminal organizations.

Cubans wishing to emigrate pay up to $10,000 to be taken to the United States. The speedboats have replaced makeshift boats and rafts as the preferred way of fleeing the island.

As an alternative, Reeker said provisions have been in effect since 1994 for 20,000 Cubans to emigrate to the United States legally and safely each year.

Americans may travel to Cuba, but the U.S. government for years has attempted to discourage such travel by making it illegal for Americans to spend money on the island with the exception of journalists and others with a professional interest in Cuba.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press