The US government on Monday announced a series of measures to ease relations with Cuba. In a statement, the State Department said that the United States is expanding flights to Cuba, allowing scheduled and charter flights to use airports other than Havana.
The government is also lifting a cap on family remittances that was set at $1,000 per quarter, speeding up visa processing and reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) Program, which had been suspended for years.
“Today, the Administration announced measures to further support the Cuban people, providing them additional tools to pursue a life free from Cuban government oppression and to seek greater economic opportunities,” said the department in a statement.
The moves reverse some of ex-president Donald Trump’s earlier policies, which included restricting travel and remittances and reducing visa processing.
One of President Joe Biden’s campaign pledges in 2020 had been to scale back some of Trump’s restrictions, which effectively undid the Cuba-US rapprochement that took place under Barack Obama.
Tough policies on Cuba are backed by conservative Cuban-Americans, who represent a key voting bloc in southern Florida, and the Biden administration is aware of it going into the midterm elections this coming November. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement: “Today’s announcement risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons.”
Hopeful in Havana
There was optimistic reaction in Havana on Monday, especially in the private sector where businesses hope to benefit from the eased measures.
Carlos Alzugaray, a former diplomat and expert on US-Cuba relations, said this is “the first clear case of Biden appearing to be on track to fulfil his campaign promises on Cuba.” He added: “Everything seems to indicate that a new thaw has begun and that the Biden administration feels this is more important than any domestic consideration.”
Among the reasons for this, said Alzugaray, are “the migratory crisis affecting several countries in the region, particularly Mexico; the discontent in the hemisphere over Biden’s apparent refusal to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to the Summit of the Americas in June in LA, and Cuba’s position with regard to the Ukraine conflict.”
But Rafael Hernández, editor of the Cuban magazine Temas, said that the White House’s new package of measures is “not informed by concern for human rights or the relevance of Cuba on its foreign policy agenda, but rather by migration, which to them is a national security problem. "