MEXICO CITY — The highest-level meeting of U.S. and Cuban officials in Havana in years was overshadowed Saturday by a flourish of recriminations reminiscent of the Cold War-era tensions that have long polarized the two nations.
The talks Friday in Havana focused on immigration issues, including visas and repatriation, part of a dialogue resumed in July after a six-year suspension. Both governments labeled the talks as positive.
But on Saturday, Cuba scolded the U.S. officials, who used their visit to meet with dissidents. Havana said the decision to talk to "mercenaries" demonstrated Washington's ulterior motives aimed at overthrowing the government of President Raul Castro.
"This offensive conduct … exposes the (U.S.) lack of real willingness to improve ties with our country," the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement published Saturday in the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.
A senior State Department official said it was standard operating procedure under the Obama administration for visiting delegations to seek out nongovernment players.
"Worldwide we have a policy of reaching out," the official said in a conference call with reporters. "We're not inclined to make exceptions to that."
State Department rules dictated that the official not be identified.
The U.S. delegation used the session in Havana to demand the release of an American imprisoned by the Communist government for what it calls subversive activities.
The man, Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor from Maryland, was arrested in December and is being held without charge. His family says he was distributing computers and phones to members of Cuba's tiny Jewish community.
The early months of the Obama administration stirred hope of improved relations between Cuba and the United States after half a century of animosity. Obama made several small gestures, including the relaxing of travel restrictions for Cuban Americans going to the country, but the atmosphere quickly deteriorated.