President Joe Biden took action on Monday to respond to a historic wave of protests in Cuba, ordering the State Department to consider an increase in staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and forming a task force who will review remittances for Cuban families.
The administration’s new political measures mark a step forward for a White House that has been reviewing its position vis-à-vis Cuba for more than six months.
But the administration felt a sudden urgency to act when an island-wide anti-government uprising erupted last week, leaving many injured and at least one confirmed dead.
Hundreds of demonstrators are still in detention, after a violent crackdown ordered by the Cuban authorities.
“Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” a senior administration official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald.
“The administration will form a remittances task force to identify the most efficient way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” the official said, adding that the State Department “will examine planning to increase the staff of the US Embassy in Havana to facilitate diplomatic, consular and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture.
At a pro-government rally on Saturday, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel reiterated accusations that the protests were orchestrated and funded by U.S. White House officials.
Biden had promised to reverse some of Trump’s policies on remittances and travel, citing humanitarian concerns.
Over the past two years, the Trump administration has tightened restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, reversing Obama-era engagement policies in a bid to reduce the flow of money to Cuba. Cuban army. Trump officials also cited Cuba’s support for the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela as another reason for the “maximum pressure campaign” against the Communist government.
Sanctions against Fincimex – a Cuban financial entity that handles remittances – because of its ties to the Cuban military caused Western Union to suspend its services in Cuba in early 2020, leaving many Cuban Americans without legal means. to send funds to loved ones on the island. . Remittances are the country’s second largest source of income and a lifeline for many families.
The Trump administration also restricted commercial flights to most Cuban destinations and banned cruises to Cuba in June 2019. Days before leaving office, Trump’s State Department put Cuba back on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
About 100,000 Cubans wishing to emigrate to the United States are also in a legal limbo, as the suspension of consular services at the American embassy in Havana caused a huge backlog. The US government withdrew most of its staff in 2017 after many diplomats fell ill with a mysterious illness whose cause is still unknown, but some suspects were an attack by a foreign adversary.
The pressure in Miami, home of the largest Cuban-American community, has mounted. Hundreds of Cuban Americans have gathered throughout the week in Miami, Washington and other cities, calling on President Biden to show his support for the protesters.
Cuban-American members of Congress have called on the administration to look for ways to provide free internet access to Cubans on the island, after the government cut services to stop the dissemination of footage of the protests and the violent response from the police.
The official said Biden was also working with Congress and the private sector to research “viable options” that would make the Internet more accessible to Cubans.
The Treasury Department will also consider new sanctions designations against Cuban officials who have been responsible for the crackdown throughout the protests, the official said, and the Biden administration “will intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners. “to support democracy in Cuba.
“On July 11, the world saw tens of thousands of Cuban citizens marching through Havana and the cities of Cuba, courageously asserting their basic and universal rights and demanding freedom and relief from the oppression of Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The official said. “The Biden-Harris administration has been and will continue to stand with the Cuban people.”
This story was originally published July 19, 2021 5:59 pm.