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Cuban columnist says bribes get U.S. visas, American diplomats say not true

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
July 1, 2013 -- Updated 0110 GMT (0910 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Cuban newspaper columnist says U.S. visas can be had for money
  • But the columnist offers no details of alleged payments
  • U.S. diplomats challenge the claim
  • They say the application process has sped up, that they don't promote illegal travel

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- A columnist in Cuba's main government-run newspaper Friday accused employees of the United States diplomatic mission in Havana of accepting bribes for visas, charges that American diplomats challenged.

The columnist, Nestor Garcia Iturbide, wrote in the state-run Granma that U.S. consular officials were in the "business of denying visas" to promote dangerous and illegal travel as well as a side business selling visas.

According to Garcia Iturbide, "to receive the visas some people pay off officials" during secret meetings arranged outside the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, but he offered no details of the alleged payments.

U.S. officials countered they have sped up the application process and don't promote illegal travel.

More Americans are visiting Cuba

"The United States supports safe, legal, and orderly migration, and encourages intending immigrants to consider the legal options that may be available to them instead of risking a dangerous and illegal trip via raft or other route," U.S. diplomats said in statement issued Friday.

The statement said that U.S. officials take allegations of corruption seriously and urged anyone with information about alleged visa payoffs to report it to U.S. authorities in Havana.

Under migration accords with Cuba, the United States gives at least 20,000 Cubans a year visas to immigrate to the U.S. legally. But the U.S.'s so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy means Cubans who reach U.S. soil are not sent back to Cuba, which Cuban authorities say leads to an increase in illegal journeys.

Thousands of Cubans also apply for tourist visas to the United States but have to prove that they have long-standing ties on the island that would prevent them from remaining in the United States.

In February, Cuba removed a long-standing requirement that forced Cubans to have an exit visa before they could travel abroad.

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