WH Moves to Loosen Rules on Cuba 05/17 06:06
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Biden administration says it will expand flights to
Cuba, take steps to loosen restrictions on U.S. travelers to the island, and
lift Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to people
on the island.
The State Department said in a statement Monday that it will remove the
current $1,000-per-quarter limit on family remittances and will allow
non-family remittance, which will support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. The
U.S. will also allow scheduled and charter flights to locations beyond Havana,
according to the State Department.
The administration said it will also move to reinstate the Cuban Family
Reunification Parole Program, which has a backlog of more than 20,000
applications, and increase consular services and visa processing.
"With these actions, we aim to support Cubans' aspirations for freedom and
for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at
home," State Department spokesman Ned Price added. "We continue to call on the
Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the
Cuban people's fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine
their own futures."
The policy changes come after a review that began soon after a series of
widespread protests on the island last July.
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 and the pandemic contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba,
where people suffer from shortages of basic products, power outages and
The economic situation led thousands of people to the streets across Cuba on
July 11, 2021 -- the largest such protests in decades on the island. Many
people were frustrated with shortages and low salaries, as well with the
socialist government. Nongovernmental organizations have reported more than
1,400 arrests and 500 people sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for
vandalism or sedition.
In recent weeks, both the U.S. and the Cuban governments have started some
conversations, amid a surge of Cubans trying to emigrate illegally to the U.S.
The first week of April, the U.S. Embassy in Havana resumed processing visas
for Cubans, though on a limited basis, more than four years after stopping
consular services on the island amid a hardening of relations.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, said the moves send the "wrong message" to Cuban President
Miguel Daz-Canel's government. Menendez was particularly critical of the
administration decision to reinstate travel by groups for educational and
cultural exchanges as well as some travel for professional meetings and
professional research on the island.
"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."
Two senior administration officials, who briefed reporters on the condition
of anonymity, noted that the Treasury Department has the authority to audit
groups that are organizing travel and will ensure that travel is purposeful and
in accordance with U.S. law. The U.S. is restricting American tourism on the
island and won't allow individuals to travel there for educational purposes,
One official defending the move noted that the president has underscored his
belief that "Americans are the best ambassadors for democratic values."
Biden said as a presidential candidate that he would revert to Obama-era
policies that loosened decades of embargo restrictions on Havana. Meanwhile,
Republicans accused him of not being supportive enough of Cuban dissidents.
President Barack Obama's rapprochement was reversed by Trump, who sharply
curtailed remittances that Cuban Americans were allowed to send to relatives on
the island, barred financial and commercial transactions with most Cuban
companies affiliated with the government or military and, in his final days in
office, redesignated Cuba a "state sponsor of terrorism," in part for its
support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said he would put a hold on all relevant Biden
nominees requiring Senate confirmation until the decision is reversed.
"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 clear sign of support for the evil regime," Scott said.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodrguez said on his Twitter account called
the Biden administration move "a limited step in the right direction". He added
that the decision doesn't change the embargo nor most of Trump measures against
"To know the real scope of this announcement, we must wait for the
publication of the regulation that will determine its application," he said.
In Havana, news of the Biden moves was spreading slowly, first among people
with access to the internet.
"Beyond the human significance, because families will reunite and there will
be a cultural exchange, there will be a blossom of these entrepreneurs little
by little," said Erich Garcia, a programmer and local cryptocurrency expert,
referring to the small businesses that opened on the island after some internal
political and economic changes, and that got a boost after the historic thaw of
relations with Cuba under the Obama administration.
In 2010, then-President Ral Castro promoted an unprecedented, albeit
limited opening to the private sector, allowing hundreds of small businesses to
open. Some of them targeted tourists who came in significant numbers at the end
of 2014 when Obama announced the new era with the island.
When Trump announced the new restrictions to Cuba, this private sector
suffered as tourism declined.
White House officials said the U.S. would also increase its diplomatic
presence, which was dramatically scaled back in 2017 in response to a spate of
unexplained brain injuries suffered by American diplomats, spies and other
government employees posted to the island.
The CIA earlier this year determined that it is unlikely that Russia or
another foreign adversary has used microwaves or other forms of directed energy
to attack the hundreds of American officials in postings around the globe who
have attributed symptoms associated with brain injuries to what's come to be
known as "Havana syndrome."
An administration official said it did not yet have a conclusion about the
mysterious health incidents. Officials did not offer a timeline for ramping up
the U.S. diplomatic presence in Cuba.