Biden administration to expand flights and consular services in Cuba, official says

The Biden administration is expanding flights to Cuba, expanding consular services there and relaunching family reunification programs in an attempt to return US involvement with the island nation closer to what it was during the Obama era.

In a series of announcements late Monday, the US announced plans to end a cap of $1,000 a quarter on remittances to Cubans as it works to ensure those payments don’t reach “those who commit human rights abuses”. according to a report provided by the White House.

The new policies reverse Trump-era restrictions on family remittances and travel to the island, but no entity will be removed from the Cuba Restricted List that prevents certain state actors from receiving US funds. The government plans to work with electronic payment companies to bypass sanctioned Cuban financial institutions.

Former President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, and even visited the country in 2016. Cuba’s removal from the shortlist was endorsed by Biden while he was vice president.

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Passengers cross the runway at José Martí International Airport after arriving on a chartered plane operated by American Airlines on January 19, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

But in the final days of the Trump administration, the former president President Donald Trump Renowned Cuba as a “Sponsor of Terrorism State” and imposed new sanctions on the country.

The Cuban government on Monday night called the new measures “positive but very limited in scope”.

“These announcements do not in any way modify the blockade or the main economic siege measures adopted by Trump, such as the lists of Cuban entities subject to additional coercive measures; nor do they eliminate travel restrictions for US citizens,” the Cuban government said.

A senior Biden administration official in a National Security Council call on Cuba detailed the measures that will be implemented and also said that actions going forward should counter the large-scale protests in Cuba that took place last year.

The official said the policies will support the Cuban community. The first is promoting accountability for human rights abuses, which the government has announced several rounds of sanctions against individuals and entities with direct links to human rights abuses. The second policy will prioritize and facilitate the export of goods of private origin or donated to the Cuban people, focusing specifically on exports of agricultural medicines.

Senator Robert Menedez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the most senior Cuban-American member of Congress, issued a lengthy statement on Monday night criticizing Cuba’s new policy, calling it the “wrong message for the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons.”

Senator Marco Rubio, who is also Cuban-American and the top Republican on the foreign affairs panel and another outspoken critic of the Cuban government, also criticized the decision on Twitter: “The regime in #Cuba has threatened Biden with mass migration and has sympathizers within the government and the result is that today we see the first steps back to Obama’s failed policies in Cuba.”

The US is due to host the ninth Summit of the Americas early next month in Los Angeles, and several Latin American leaders said they would not attend unless Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were invited. On Monday, government officials told reporters that formal invitations to the meetings had not yet been sent.

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