Joe Biden Administration Lifting Some Trump-Era Restrictions on Cuba.
The changes include an expansion of flights to the country and the restarting of a family reunification program.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Monday announced a partial lifting of sanctions on Cuba, including expanding flights beyond Havana and restarting a program to reunify Cuban families in the United States, its first moves toward fulfilling President Biden’s campaign promise to reverse many of the sanctions imposed by his predecessor.
The changes, which also include relaxing the ban on remittances, were announced after a lengthy review of Cuba policy. They go into effect at a time when food and medicine shortages have created new waves of Cubans trying to reach U.S. shores.
While administration officials have said the actions would “center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people,” they were immediately denounced by Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Cuban American Democrat who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Today’s announcement,” he said, “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons.”
The split between Mr. Biden and Mr. Menendez goes to the heart of differences in both political parties about how to deal with the Cuban government. A government crackdown on dissent that began in July led Mr. Biden to announce largely symbolic sanctions on Cuban police officials and others accused of human rights abuses, including arrests of protesters. But it also made it harder to fulfill his campaign promise to restore the kind of relationship the Obama administration envisioned, and which Mr. Biden endorsed as vice president.
But Biden administration officials concluded that restoring the status quo from January 2017, when the Obama administration left office, is as complicated in the case of Cuba as it is in that of Iran, where a parallel effort has faltered.
The Biden administration’s policy review concluded that the best way to bring about change in Cuba was direct engagement with its people — not its government — which had also been the underlying logic of President Barack Obama’s opening to Havana. The administration has argued that it is shipping technology to Cubans to help them avoid government censorship and to help 20,000 people rejoin family members in the United States.
Mr. Menendez takes a very different view: that the only way to change the behavior of the Cuban government is to choke off its revenues. He objected specifically to the administration’s decision to allow groups to travel to Cuba, though not individual tourists.
“I am dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement.
“To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial,” he said. “For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed. For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions, arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom, and nothing changed.”
The largest program that is being revived is the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which allowed up to 20,000 immigration visas to the United States each year. The State Department is expected to announce that it is stepping up the approval of visas at the embassy in Havana. There are 22,000 applications, officials said, that no one has acted on in the past five years.
Repost From: The New York Times