White House moves to ease remittances and flight rules to Cuba

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Monday that it will expand flights to Cuba, take steps to ease restrictions on U.S. travelers to the island, and lift Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to the inhabitants of the island.

The State Department said in a statement that it would remove the current $1,000 quarterly limit on family remittances and allow non-family remittances, which would support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. The United States will also allow scheduled and charter flights to destinations beyond Havana, according to the State Department.

The administration said it would also restore Cuba’s parole program for family reunification, 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 greater economic opportunity so 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, respect the fundamental freedoms of the Cuban people, and allow the Cuban people to determine their own future.

The policy changes come after a review that began shortly after a series of widespread protests on the island last July.

Former President Donald Trump had tightened sanctions against Cuba, including the cancellation of remittance permits and the punishment of tankers bound for the island.

These measures and the pandemic have contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba, where people are suffering from shortages of basic commodities, blackouts and rationing.

The economic situation drove thousands to the streets of Cuba on July 11, 2021 – the largest such protests in decades on the island. Many people were frustrated with the shortages and low wages, as well as with the socialist government. Non-governmental organizations reported more than 1,400 arrests and 500 people sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for vandalism or sedition.

In recent weeks, the US and Cuban governments have begun conversations, amid a surge of Cubans trying to immigrate illegally to the United States.

The first week of April, the U.S. Embassy in Havana resumed processing visas for Cubans, albeit on a limited basis, more than four years after consular services on the island were halted in a context of 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 the government of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Menendez was particularly critical of the administration’s decision to reinstate group travel for educational and cultural exchanges as well as some travel for professional meetings and professional research on the island.

“I am appalled to learn that the Biden administration will begin allowing group travel to Cuba through tourism-like tours,” Menendez said. “To be clear, those who still believe that increased travel will spawn democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial.”

White House officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, noted that the Treasury Department has the authority to audit groups that organize trips and will ensure that trips are helpful and comply with the American law.

An official defending the move noted that the president emphasized his belief that “Americans are the best ambassadors of democratic values.”

Biden has said as the presidential candidate he will revert to Obama-era policies that eased decades of embargo restrictions on Havana. Meanwhile, Republicans have accused him of not supporting Cuban dissidents enough.

President Barack Obama’s rapprochement was reversed by Trump, who sharply reduced remittances Cuban Americans were allowed to send to relatives on the island, banned financial and commercial transactions with most Cuban-affiliated businesses government or military and, in his final days in office, redesignated Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”, in part for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said he would put all affected Biden nominees requiring Senate confirmation on hold until the decision is overturned.

“Biden can phrase this however he likes, but it’s the truth: it’s nothing but a silly attempt to revert to Obama’s failed appeasement policies and a clear sign of support for the evil regime. “Scott said.

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