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U.S. Revises Cuban Policy, Eases Remittance and Travel Restrictions

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A vintage car drives past the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba October 30, 2020. Picture taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) – The United States on Monday announced a series of moves to overhaul its policy toward Cuba, including easing some Trump-era restrictions on family remittances and travel on the island and greatly increasing US visa processing for Cubans. .

The measures, which were rolled out after lengthy review by the US government, mark the most significant shifts in the US approach to Havana since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

But the announcement failed to return U.S.-Cuban relations to the historic rapprochement orchestrated by former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president. This included a looser flow of remittances, fewer travel restrictions and faster visa services.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the measures announced Monday were intended to “further support the Cuban people, providing them with additional tools to lead a life free from oppression of the Cuban government and to seek greater economic opportunities”.

The State Department said the United States would lift the cap on family remittances, previously set at $1,000 per quarter, and allow remittances to non-family members.

But he made it clear that the United States would not remove entities from the Cuba Restricted List, a State Department list of government- and military-aligned Cuban companies with which U.S. businesses and citizens are not not allowed to do business.

“We will ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people, without enriching those who commit human rights abuses,” an administration official said.

The United States will use “electronic payment processors” for remittances to avoid funds going directly to the Cuban government, an official said, adding that the United States had already engaged with the Cuban government “to establish a civilian processor for this”.

Biden officials have been aware that easing restrictions on the communist-ruled island could lead to political fallout from conservative Cuban Americans, a key voting bloc in South Florida that has primarily supported the government’s hardline policies. former President Donald Trump with regard to Cuba.

Senator Bob Menendez, 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. .”

Trump has reduced visa processing, restricted remittances, cut flights and increased barriers for US citizens seeking to travel to Cuba for anything other than family visits.

There were few details on how the new policy would be implemented, but officials said the measures would be implemented over the next few weeks.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in a post on Twitter, called the US announcement a “limited step in the right direction.”

“The decision does not change the embargo, the fraudulent inclusion (of Cuba) on a list of state sponsors of terrorism or most of Trump’s measures of maximum coercive pressure that still affect the Cuban people,” he said. he declared.

FAMILY REUNION

Among the changes is a plan to restore Cuba’s parole program for family reunification, which had provided a legal way for Cuban families to reunite in the United States, and to increase the capacity of consular services.

Washington will aim to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year, the official said, in accordance with a migration agreement. The Biden administration is looking to increase embassy staff to handle the backlog, but it’s unclear how and when that might happen.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana began issuing a trickle of immigrant visas to Cubans this month, delivering on its earlier promise to restart visa processing on the island after a four-year hiatus.

The Biden administration will also expand authorized travel to Cuba, allowing scheduled and charter flights to use airports other than Havana, according to the State Department.

Washington will also reinstate certain categories of educational group travel, as well as some travel related to business meetings and research.

Individual “person-to-person” travel will not be reinstated, however. The category was eliminated by Trump officials who said it was abused by Americans taking beach vacations.

The United States will also increase support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs, aimed at facilitating Internet access and expanding access to microfinance and training, among other measures.

Biden promised in the 2020 election to re-engage with Cuba. But Havana’s crackdown following widespread protests on the island last July has instead led to sanctions against Cuban officials.

The Cuban government blamed the protests on US interference.

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

The officials said no decision had been made on whether to invite Cuba to the Summit of the Americas hosted by the United States next month. Mexico and others have threatened not to participate unless all countries in the Americas are invited. Read more

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Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington and David Sherwood in Havana; Editing by Mary Milliken and Rosalba O’Brien

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