US, Cuba meet to fight trafficking in persons

The United States and Cuba were expected to begin meeting on Thursday to coordinate efforts to fight trafficking in persons.

The US Department of State said delegations from both countries were to meet in Washington, D.C. on Thursday and Friday to discuss the issue.

The US delegation was expected to be led by Ambassador-at-Large Susan Coppedge of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the State Department said.

It said working-level representatives from the US Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services were also participating.

The State Department said the Cuban delegation was led by Director of Bilateral Issues, Yuri Ariel Gala Lopez, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Directorate General for the United States, and included officials from various Cuban agencies.

“This is the fourth consecutive exchange between the United States and Cuba on efforts to prevent and prosecute trafficking in persons and protect trafficking victims,” the State Department said.

In addition to sharing information about best practices, the State Department said both sides would seek to identify areas of possible future cooperation.

On Monday, the United States and Cuba signed a bilateral agreement to prepare for and respond to oil spills and hazardous substance pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida.

“Under the agreement, the United States and Cuba will cooperate and coordinate in an effort to prevent, contain, and clean up marine oil and other hazardous pollution in order to minimize adverse effects to public health and safety and the environment,” the State Department said.

Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Havana Jeffrey DeLaurentis signed the agreement on behalf of the United States, and Vice Minister Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila of the Ministry of Transportation signed for Cuba.

US President Barack Obama last October formally announced the normalization of relations with Cuba in a Presidential Policy Directive.

But, on Dec. 17, 2014, Obama announced that the United States would chart a new course with Cuba, “ending an outdated policy that had failed to advance US interests and support reform and a better life for the Cuban people on the island over several decades.”

Under the new policy, Obama said the United States would expand and promote authorized engagements with Cuba to advance cooperation on areas of mutual interest, and increase travel to, commerce with, and the free flow of information to Cuba.

He said the objective of the new policy is to help the Cuban people to achieve a better future for themselves and to encourage the development of a partner in the region capable of working with the United States to confront regional challenges, such as climate change, disease and illicit trafficking.

The US president said “endogenous changes underway in Cuba offer opportunities to advance US interests and shift away from an embargo, which is an outdated burden on the Cuban people and has impeded US interests.

“My Administration has repeatedly called on the Congress to lift the embargo,” Obama said. “United States policy is designed to create economic opportunities for the Cuban people; promote respect for human rights; further advances on regional security and defense issues, such as health, law enforcement, and migration; and pursue cooperation with the Cuban government that can strengthen our leadership in the hemisphere.

“We recognize Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination and acknowledge areas of difference,” he added. “We seek to address such differences through engagement and dialogue, and by encouraging increased understanding between our governments and our peoples.”