The United States and Cuba have revived an agreement to allow the repatriation of more than 2,500 Cubans who came to this country illegally aboard the 1980 Mariel boat lift, the State Department said Friday. As part of the agreement, department spokesman Charles Redman said more than 20,000 Cubans in several different categories will be allowed to immigrate to the United States annually. Another official estimated the yearly immigration flow at 27,000.
The two countries had signed a wide-ranging immigration agreement in December 1984, but Cuba suspended it after five months. The suspension was in apparent reaction to establishment of Radio Marti, a Voice of America broadcast operation beamed to Cuba.
Agreement by Cuba to reinstate the suspended agreement was reached in talks last week in Mexico City between State Department deputy legal adviser Michael Kozak and Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcon.
Mr. Redman said the revival of the agreement will benefit thousands of persons in the US and Cuba, but he suggested that it will have minimal impact on the overall relationship between the two countries. He said the United States ``continues to have serious concern about Cuba's international behavior.''
Another official, insisting on anonymity, said Cuba requested the Mexico City talks. He speculated that Cuba's interest in reviving the 1984 agreement may have been based on a desire to reduce the country's ``surplus population'' at a time when the island is undergoing economic difficulties.
The official added that there may have been a link between Cuba's interest in reviving the agreement and the signs of reduced US-Soviet hostility, symbolized by the pending visit to Washington of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The official suggested that Cuba may be interested in being in step with the favorable trend in superpower relations.
Redman said 3,000 former Cuban political prisoners a year would be eligible to immigrate, but another official said the figure was closer to 3,500.
The Mariel boat lift issue has been a sore point in US-Cuban relations for years. More than 125,000 Cubans came to the United States during the spring and summer of 1980. Of that total, 2,746 were deemed ``excludable'' under US law because of mental illness or non-political crimes.
During the five-month period in late 1984 and early 1985 when the immigration agreement was in effect, 201 Cubans were returned to the island, leaving 2,545 stll subject to repatriation, according to Redman.
Gary Leshaw, a legal-aid attorney who specializes in the Cubans' case, says about 570 ``excludables'' have been approved for release into society.
``I don't know what is going to happen to them,'' he said. ``A lot of these guys have families who are American citizens.''