MIAMI – On Monday, the Biden administration announced a series of measures they believe will “increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests.”
The administration is focusing on the following policies: reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which would increase consular services and processing of visas; more travel to the island and increasing the amount of money families can send to back to the island.
“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,” said Ned Prices, a State Department spokesperson. “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.”
Within minutes of the announcement, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a democrat, criticized the Biden administration for the changes.
“I am dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism. To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial,” Menendez said.
“For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed. For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom and nothing changed. And as I warned then, the regime ultimately laughed off any promises of loosening its iron grip on the Cuban people and we ended up helping fund the machinery behind their continued oppression,” he added.
Here is how the State Department outlined the changes in Cuba policy:
- Facilitate family reunification by reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) Program and continuing to increase capacity for consular services. Limited immigrant visa processing resumed in Havana on May 3, 2022. We will reinstate the CFRP and increase visa processing in Havana while continuing to process the majority of immigrant visa cases at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana.
- Strengthen family ties and facilitate educational connections for the U.S. and Cuban people by expanding authorized travel in support of the Cuban people. We will authorize scheduled and charter flights to locations beyond Havana. We also will implement regulatory changes to reinstate group people-to-people and other categories of group educational travel, as well as certain travel related to professional meetings and professional research, including to support expanded Internet access and remittance processing companies and to provide additional support to Cuban entrepreneurs. We are not reinstating individual people-to-people travel.
- Increase support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs. We will encourage commercial opportunities outside of the state sector by authorizing access to expanded cloud technology, application programming interfaces, and e-commerce platforms. We will explore options to expand support of additional payment options for Internet-based activities, electronic payments, and business with independent Cuban entrepreneurs. We will work to expand entrepreneurs’ access to microfinance and training.
- Ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses. Specifically, we will remove the current limit on family remittances of $1,000 per quarter per sender-receiver pair and will authorize donative (i.e., non-family) remittances, which will support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. We will engage with electronic payment processors to encourage increased Cuban market accessibility. We will not remove entities from the Cuba Restricted List.
In short, the Cuban government called the change a limited step in the right direction.
The decision does not modify the U.S. embargo, the fraudelent inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries who sponsor terror nor the majority of the cohersive actions of maximum pressure by the Trump administration which still affects the Cuban people, said Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Miniter Bruno Rodriguez on Twitter.
US gov. announcement is a limited step in the right direction. This decision in no way modifies the blockade, #Cuba's fraudulent inclusion in the list of countries sponsors of terrorism or most of Trump's maximum pressure coercive measures that still affect the Cuban people.— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) May 17, 2022
“I think its a result or a reaction to the large numbers of migrants, Cuban migrants that we have seen,” said retired University of Miami professor and Cuban analyst Andy Gomez.
The United States Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security has logged a record number of Cubans intercepted as the U.S. border.
The interdictions have been large even along the South Florida coast, where desperations to flee the communist island for a shot at a better life in the U.S. has turned deadly in some cases.
The Biden administration’s plan includes reversing the Trump era’s restrictions on remittances that people can send to Cubans.
The previous $1,000 dollar per quarter limit has been lifted, and the U.S. will soon allow flights, commercial and charter, to fly in cities across Cuba, with a strict exception on Havana.
Gomez believes the policy shift may be too late to stop the attempted mass migration at the border by the island’s young people.
“They tell me this is not in the long run going to help them or the Cuban economy or the situation,” he said. “They still see no future for them on the island, their goal is to get out of there as soon as possible.”