White House Loosens Travel, Other Rules on Cuba
WASHINGTON — The White House plans to increase authorized travel to Cuba, encouraging commercial opportunities for consumers to buy goods from “independent Cuban entrepreneurs,” and reverse the restrictions on remittances — a Trump-era policy — that kept Cuban immigrants from sending money to friends and relatives that remain on the island.
In a conference call with reporters, a senior administration official said the moves are the result of an extensive review of the United States’ Cuba policy, which they said, “continues to center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future.”
The announcement of the new policies were accompanied by a call for the Cuban government to release all political prisoners.
The call followed an announcement from the State Department that it is reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program and increasing consular services and visa processing, “making it possible for more Cubans to join their families in the United States via regular migration channels.”
The State Department also said it is taking steps to make it easier for families to visit their relatives in Cuba and for authorized U.S. travelers to engage with the Cuban people, attend meetings and conduct research.
The administration said it is also encouraging the growth of Cuba’s private sector by supporting greater access to U.S. internet services, applications and e-commerce platforms.
“We will support new avenues for electronic payments for U.S. business activities with independent Cuban entrepreneurs, including through increased access to microfinance and training.”
In addition, the Biden administration said it is lifting the family remittance cap of $1,000 per quarter and will support donations to Cuban entrepreneurs, both with the goal of empowering family members to support one another and for entrepreneurs to expand their businesses.
Finally, on the travel front, the State Department said the U.S. will also allow both scheduled and chartered flights to locations in Cuba beyond Havana.
Administration officials said taken together, the measures will “increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests.”
They also said the moves are a response to the large-scale protests that took place in Washington and other U.S. cities last July.
“The president met with the Cuban American community and directed us — following that meeting — to take action in two primary areas,” one of the officials on the briefing call said.
“The first is to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights abuses,” the official said.
The second is to strengthen family ties and expand economic opportunities for those who remain on the island.
Former President Donald Trump had increased sanctions against Cuba, including the cancellation of permits to send remittances and the punishment of oil tankers bound for the island.
These measures, when coupled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, severely damaged the Cuban economy, and led to everything from shortages of essential goods to rolling power outages.
Frustration over those conditions led thousands to take to the streets all across Cuba on July 11, 2021, and those protests soon spread to the U.S. and even to Lafayette Park, directly across the street from the White House.
At the same time, it is believed that more than 1,400 people were arrested in Cuba due to their participation in the protests and as many as 500 have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison as a result of their engagement.
There has also reportedly been a marked increase in Cubans trying to enter the United States illegally.
To stem the tide, the U.S. Embassy in Havana resumed processing visas for Cubans, though on a limited basis, in April.
Both senior administration officials on the call with reporters noted that the newly announced policies are in line with statements President Biden made on the campaign trail when he characterized Trump’s policies on Cuba as a failure.
They also reiterated Biden’s belief that Americans are the best ambassadors for democratic values, asserting that allowing greater people-to-people travel opportunities “will allow for greater engagement between the American people and the promotion of their democratic values.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, in a Twitter post, called the U.S. announcement “a limited step in the right direction.”
He added, “This decision in no way modifies the blockade, Cuba’s fraudulent inclusion in the list of countries sponsor[ing] … terrorism or most of Trump’s maximum pressure coercive measures that still affect the Cuban people.”
Republican members of the Senate were equally blunt.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said in a written statement that “Joe Biden’s appeasement of the illegitimate communist Cuban regime is disgusting.”
“The administration claims they are helping the people but have done nothing to secure the freedom of political prisoners like José Daniel Ferrer, who are subjected to physical and psychological torture in an attempt to end their life,” he continued, adding, “Since the July 11 protests, instead of standing with the freedom-loving people of Cuba, Joe Biden has shown weakness and cowardice — bowing to the demands of a murderous regime instead of standing for democracy and human rights.
“Biden can frame this however he wants, but this is the truth: This is nothing but an idiotic attempt to return to Obama’s failed appeasement policies and [a] clear sign of support for the evil regime,” Scott said.
Even Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he believes the policy change sends the “wrong message” to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government.
“I am dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism,” Menendez said. “To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial.”
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