Biden takes steps to review Cuba policy after protests
President Biden is weighing whether to allow remittances to Cuba along with reestablishing consular services on the island in the wake of historic protests earlier this month.
The White House has established two working groups to evaluate the policy shifts, a congressional source told The Hill.
Doing so would allow Cubans to seek a visa to the U.S. from the island rather than having to visit a U.S. embassy in a third country like Mexico while renewed remittances would permit Americans to send money to relatives in Cuba amid discontent with food shortages and difficulty accessing medicine.
“The administration is focused on only allowing such transfers if we can guarantee that all of the money flows directly into the hands of the Cuban people instead of allowing a portion of the proceeds to be siphoned off into regime coffers,” a senior administration official told The Hill.
The official added the move would be paired with other efforts to “build international pressure against the regime, designating sanctions against those responsible for violence and repression against peaceful protestors, and helping Cubans get access to the internet.”
The U.S. eased restrictions on remittances to the island nation under President Obama, but they were walked back during the Trump administration. The U.S. also opened an embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961 under Obama, but the U.S. shut down a number of its functions under Trump.
A senior administration official told The Miami Herald, which first reported the potential shift, that Biden had ordered the State Department to “review planning to augment staffing of U.S. Embassy Havana to facilitate diplomatic, consular, and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture.”
“The administration will form a Remittance Working Group to identify the most effective way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” the official said, adding that the State Department “will review planning to augment staffing of U.S. Embassy Havana to facilitate diplomatic, consular, and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture.”
Juan Gonzalez, senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, also recently told Univision that Biden had established working groups to urgently reconsider remittances and consular services.
Biden thus far has expressed support for those that protested in Cuba, saying last week they were “bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights.”
But pushing ahead with either remittances or consular services would be a big shift for Biden, who has done little to reverse course on Cuba since former President Trump reestablished restrictions eased in the Obama era.
The State Department in May listed Cuba as among those “not cooperating fully with United States antiterrorism efforts,” renewing a determination first made in 2020.
It’s also yet to reverse the Trump’s administration’s determination placing Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list.
The lack of concrete actions by the administration reflects a lack of options given the wide array of political and economic sanctions already imposed on the Cuban government, to little effect.
Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), who is leading the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Florida, proposed last week sending direct aid to the Cuban people, both by sea and through the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
Still, any liberalization toward Cuba is a risk for Biden, who is aware of the political flak that former President Obama caught for his policy toward the island’s Communist government.
That leaves Biden walking a fine line between critics on the left who at least in part blame conditions on the island on the U.S. blockade, and critics on the right who view softening of U.S. policy as a giveaway to the Havana.
“The Cuban people have been under a repressive, totalitarian, terrorist and murderous regime for 63 years. And recently, last week, they took to the streets, and they took to the streets asking for one thing, one thing alone, freedom. Freedom. They’re not out there asking for remittances, they’re not asking for aspirin. They’re asking and demanding freedom,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) Tuesday.
Scott Wong contributed to this story.
Updated: 8:10 p.m.