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The US lifts a series of restrictions on Cuba

The United States embassy in Havana (Cuba), on May 3, 2022 afp_tickers

This content was published on May 17, 2022 – 00:58

(AFP)

The Joe Biden administration said Monday that it will lift a series of restrictions on Cuba imposed during the Trump era, facilitating immigration procedures, money transfers and flights to the island, a decision hailed by Havana.

Washington’s announcement stems from the review of the policy towards Havana promised by Biden when he arrived at the White House in January 2021, but which began to take shape after the historic protests that shook Cuba last July.

“With these measures we intend to support the aspirations of freedom and greater economic opportunities of Cubans so that they can lead a successful life at home,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

A high-ranking US official considered it a “coincidence” that this was announced after a threat to boycott the next Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles by Mexico, after Cuba denounced having been excluded from the preparations.

“The invitations haven’t gone out. So there hasn’t been a decision on this. And these policy measures (toward Cuba) have been in the works for a long time, and they’re considered completely separate from the conversation of who’s in and who’s out. Summit,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The Biden administration said it would reinstate the CFRP program, suspended since 2017, which allows US citizens and residents to join their Cuban relatives in the United States through regular migration channels.

He also indicated that he will increase the processing capacity of visa applications in Havana, while continuing to do most of these immigration procedures in Guyana.

The US embassy in Cuba reduced its staff to a minimum in September 2017, when Republican Donald Trump denounced “sonic attacks” that had affected the health of his diplomats since 2016.

– Remittances to “independent Cuban entrepreneurs” –

The Biden administration also plans to eliminate the family remittance limit of $1,000 per quarter for the sender-recipient pair, and authorize non-family remittances to support “independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”

However, the senior US official assured that “remittances through Fincimex” will continue to be prohibited, owned by GAESA, a business conglomerate controlled by the Cuban armed forces.

In 2019, Trump limited formal money transfers to Cuba, a breadwinner for many families and key to the Cuban economy, and in 2020 he sanctioned Fincimex to prevent the Cuban government from benefiting as an intermediary.

In addition, the Biden government said on Monday that it will increase flights between the United States and the island, and will enable connections to other cities besides Havana. Certain currently prohibited group travel will be authorized, although individual travel will not.

“The (Biden) administration’s policy toward Cuba continues to focus first and foremost on supporting the Cuban people, including their human rights and their political and economic well-being,” Price said.

“We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the fundamental freedoms of the Cuban people, and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own future,” he added.

– “Limited step” –

Cuba described this relaxation as a “limited step in the right direction”, but stressed that “it does not modify” the embargo in force for six decades.

“The decision does not modify the blockade, the fraudulent inclusion on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, or most of Trump’s maximum pressure coercive measures that still affect the Cuban people,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted.

The “content of the announcement confirms that neither the objectives nor the main instruments of the failed policy of the United States against Cuba have changed,” he added.

Trump tightened the economic embargo that the United States has applied to Cuba since 1962 in order to force a regime change, reversing the opening promoted by his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama (2009-2017).

Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, surprised many by sticking with Trump’s measures.

Cuba, under a single-party regime, the Communist, since the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, is a politically hot topic in the United States, which is home to a large community of immigrants of Cuban origin. And not only in Republican ranks.

“Today’s announcement risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons,” said Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of Biden’s Democratic Party.

Menéndez denounced that the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel “continues its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans” for participating in the 2021 protests.

The demonstrations, which occurred in the midst of the worst economic crisis in Cuba in decades, left one dead, dozens injured and more than 1,300 detained, according to Miami-based Cubalex.

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