The Biden administration announced Monday it will reverse some Trump-era restrictions on Cuba, including limits on travel and remittances, and boost visa processing in Havana.
The changes, the most significant in U.S.-Cuba policy since President Joe Biden took office, follow a lengthy policy review.
A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration will continue to elevate the matter of human rights, the treatment of political prisoners and labor rights in Cuba, as well as “empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future.”
The U.S. will allow charter and commercial flights to airports outside Havana. During the Trump administration, flights to Cuba were restricted to only Havana’s airport. A senior administration official also said that the U.S. will reinstate educational travel in groups under a general license but that it is not reinstating individual “people-to-people” educational travel.
Caps of $1,000 per quarter on family remittances will be lifted. Western Union closed its offices in Cuba in 2020 after President Donald Trump sanctioned its partner company, Fincimex, run by the military. Fincimex will remain under U.S. sanctions. The senior government official said the U.S. has underscored to Cuba the need to find a civilian entity that could process remittances to expand electronic payments.
Visa processing at the embassy in Havana will be increased, and the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program will be reinstated. During the Trump administration, visa processing was greatly reduced after embassy personnel were affected by mysterious health incidents that became known as “Havana syndrome.”
For the past few years, the U.S. has not processed the 20,000 annual migrant visas it agreed to almost three decades ago.
Cuba has been facing a severe economic crisis, with shortages in food and medicine, as well as soaring inflation due to sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of Cuban migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has soared in recent months. Nearly 100,000 have been apprehended by Customs and Border Protection since October.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez wrote on Twitter that the U.S. government’s announcement was “a limited step in the right direction” but criticized the U.S. for not modifying the embargo or removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Biden vowed when he was campaigning in 2020 that he would reverse “the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans and their families.” His administration had been conducting a lengthy review of Cuba policy.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban American who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that the administration’s announcement “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons.”
“I am dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism,” Menendez wrote. “To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial.”
The U.S. will host the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles the week of June 6. Administration officials have been contending with blowback from leaders of some leftist countries after some U.S. officials hinted that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua would not be invited.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said that “if everyone is not invited, I will not go.”
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Carmen Sesin is a reporter based in Miami.