Cuban, U.S. Diplomats Increasingly Allowed To Travel

, The Associated Press

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For decades, Cuban and U.S. diplomats have faced strict limits on their travel within the Cold War enemy countries.

Cuban diplomats at the United Nations in New York cannot go 25 miles beyond Columbus Circle in Manhattan or past the Beltway loop circling Washington without the permission of the U.S. State Department.

U.S. Interests Section workers, meanwhile, must submit detailed itineraries to Cuban officials if they want to travel outside Havana.

Recently, however, Cuban and U.S. diplomats have been increasingly, and more easily, stepping outside the once nearly insurmountable fences.

On the island, U.S. officials privately say they've had an easier time obtaining permission to travel outside the allowed perimeter.

And last week, two consuls from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington made a discreet visit to Miami. There they met with U.S. companies that offer charter flights to the island and small groups of Cuban exiles to talk about the easing of regulations allowing Cubans to travel and other reforms.

Earlier this year, the chief of the Cuban Interests Section delivered the keynote address at a University of Georgia law school conference on the economic embargo against Cuba. Two other Cuban officials went to Tampa in March to attend an event promoting engagement between the U.S. and Cuba.

"In the past, they have not had much luck," said Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and one of the hosts of the Tampa conference, titled, "Rapprochement with Cuba: Good for Tampa, Good for Florida, Good for America."

"The State Department usually said no," Smith said. "But in this case, it was, 'Yes.' And I would say a somewhat different tone. A more positive one."

The travel is part of a larger, slow-moving thaw between the two countries and comes as both prepare for a sit-down talk on migration issues on Wednesday. Cuba and the U.S. held talks last month on resuming direct mail service. A U.S. federal judge allowed a Cuban intelligence agent to return to the island in May. And Cuba recently decided to let an American doctor examine jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross.

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