HAVANA – Cuba and the United States on Wednesday signed an agreement that will allow greater bilateral cooperation in air and maritime search and rescue operations, a “positive” step in normalizing relations in the last few days before US President Barack Obama leaves office.
The pact, signed in Havana by the charge d’affaires at the US Embassy on the island, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and Cuba’s deputy minister for transportation, Marta Oramas, seeks to cement cooperation in this area and increase bilateral effectiveness in attending to the victims of accidents, including illegal migrants attempting to flee Cuba.
The accord recognizes the importance of cooperation in air and sea searches and is essential for the two nations as authorized trade and the flow of travelers between them increases, DeLaurentis said after the signing ceremony.
Washington’s top representative on the island noted that for more than 20 years the two nations have successfully cooperated in the “shared effort to save lives” on the high seas.
Oramas, meanwhile, referred to the joint adoption in 2014 of operational procedures and good operating practices in rescuing victims of air and maritime accidents.
“This precedent, as well as the new bilateral context, favored the adoption of this instrument ... that strengthens bilateral cooperation in this area,” she said.
Oramas added that the pact also will permit the undertaking of joint exercises, periodic checks of communications channels, reciprocal visits by experts and information exchange.
“In the face of the current increase in air and maritime transport in the region, this accord is of special importance and its signing constitutes a positive step in the improvement of relations between the two countries,” she said.
Because of their geographical proximity, the maritime and air zones belonging to Cuba and the United States are almost adjacent.
Cuba and the United States in December 2014 launched a process of rapprochement, which resulted the next year in reestablishing official bilateral connections and reopening embassies in Washington and Havana.
Since then, the two nations have reached agreements in the areas of civil aviation, the environment, science and health, as well as other sectors.