Biden orders review of possible first steps towards easing US policy on Cuba

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Washington – President Joe Biden on Monday ordered the State Department to create a task force to review the United States’ remittance policy to ensure that the money Cuban-Americans send home is directly between the hands of their families without the regime taking a cut.

He also ordered the ministry to create a task force to examine the feasibility of increasing the staff of the United States Embassy in Havana. The White House hopes an increase in staff could help it better facilitate civil society engagement after one of the biggest anti-government protests on the communist island in recent memory.

The actions were detailed by a senior administration official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity as the Biden administration had yet to publicly announce the effort. They were first reported by the Miami Herald.

“Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” the official said in a statement to CBS News that also premiered in the Herald. .

It comes just over a week after thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana and other towns on the island to protest food shortages and high prices during the coronavirus crisis. This is a level of frustration not seen in Cuba for over 60 years.

The official also confirmed to CBS News that the administration is considering initiatives to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people.

“On July 11, the world saw tens of thousands of Cuban citizens marching through Havana and the cities of Cuba, courageously asserting their basic and universal rights and demanding freedom and relief from the oppression of Cuba’s authoritarian regime. . The Biden-Harris administration has and will continue to stand with the Cuban people, ”the official said in a statement to CBS News also made to the Herald.

The Cuban regime has decided to quickly cut access to the Internet to prevent the dissemination of images of the protests around the world. Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, urged Biden to give dissidents free satellite internet access to help thwart Cuban government efforts to prevent activists from spreading their messages on social media. .

The administration will also seek to work with international organizations to increase humanitarian aid, while the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will explore the possibility of sanctioning Cuban officials who committed human rights violations against protesters. peaceful in Cuba, the official told The Associated Press.

Biden’s senior adviser Cedric Richmond and Juan Gonzalez, a senior National Security Council official, met with Cuban-American leaders on Monday to hear their policy recommendations and concerns in the aftermath of the protests, according to the White House.

CBS Miami reports that Gloria and Emilio Estefan were among the participants.

Mr Biden has said as a presidential candidate he will revert to Obama-era policies that relaxed decades of embargo restrictions on Havana, and the US political right has accused him of not supporting enough Cuban dissidents. So far, the Biden administration has said it is reviewing its Cuban policy and has done little to move away from Mr. Trump’s stance towards the Communist regime.

The Herald points out that pressure for the president to change course has intensified in Miami, home to the largest Cuban-American community. Hundreds of people staged rallies in Miami, Washington, DC and other cities, urging Biden to show his support for protesters in Cuba.

Cuba protests against Miami
Protesters walk down Eighth Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood on July 18, 2021.

Marta Lavandier / AP


He also came under pressure from Congress to take action, last week calling Cuba a “failed state” that “cracked down on its citizens.” But he also suggested that taking effective action was complicated.

“There are a number of things we would consider doing to help the Cuban people, but that would require different circumstances or a guarantee that they would not be exploited by the government,” Biden said. “For example, the possibility of sending remittances to Cuba. We wouldn’t do that now because the point is that the regime is very likely to confiscate those remittances or large chunks.”

A dramatic withdrawal of Cuban embassy staff began in 2017, unrelated to the Trump administration’s antipathy to President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with the island.

Instead, the withdrawal of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana began in the spring and summer of that year in response to unexplained brain damage suffered by U.S. diplomats, spies and other government employees stationed on the island.

The Trump administration has also decided to reverse many of the Obama administration’s initiatives, reimposing restrictions that banned direct commercial flights by US carriers to several Cuban airports and stopovers by US-registered cruise ships.

President Donald Trump also sharply reduced the remittances Cuban Americans were allowed to send to loved ones on the island, banned financial and business dealings with most Cuban government or military-affiliated companies, and , in his last days in power, re-designated Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism”, in part for his support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Some of the more liberal members of the Democratic Party, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, criticized the Cuban government but also called on Mr. Biden to lift the embargo and argued that the embargo policy is helping Cuban suffering. .


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