The White House on Monday announced major changes to the Trump administration’s policies toward Cuba by expanding flights to the country and reinstating a family reunification program that had been dormant for years.
The Biden Administration announced that he would reestablish flights to other cities besides Havana and allow group trips that are considered for educational or professional exchanges.
Current restrictions limit US flights to Havana, making it difficult for Cuban-Americans hoping to visit relatives on the island, which has been increasingly isolated and facing economic ruin, to travel.
The administration is also relaunching the Cuban Family Reunification Program, which allows eligible US citizens and permanent residents to apply for parole for their relatives in Cuba. If approved, those family members can come to the US on an expedited basis.
The State Department also announced that it would support efforts to boost the Cuban private sector by supporting increased access to US Internet services, which are largely restricted within Cuba.
The administration is also lifting the $1,000 per quarter family remittance limit in a bid to increase financial support for families with some members living in the US and others still in Cuba.
The changes announced Monday come after years of stricter policies implemented by the Trump administration, which in turn marked a change from a more open policy instituted by the Obama administration.
The Biden administration framed the new policies as an effort to engage with the Cuban people and “support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and greater economic opportunity so they can lead successful lives at home.”
While restarting the family reunification program is likely to be popular with the lawmakers who have pushed it forward, some of the other changes drew immediate bipartisan skepticism from members of Congress.
“I am dismayed to learn that the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through tourism-like visits,” Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “To be clear, those who still believe that increased travel will bring about democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial.
“For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed,” he continued. “For years the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions on the grounds that millions of US dollars would bring freedom and nothing changed. And as I warned then, the regime ultimately laughed at any promise to loosen its iron grip on the Cuban people and we ended up helping finance the machinery behind its continued oppression.”
When a senior administration official was asked about Menendez’s travel concerns, he said the Treasury Department has the authority to audit groups that organize trips to Cuba to ensure they are conducted in accordance with U.S. law. . The official also argued that the commitment between the United States and the Cubans will allow the dissemination of democratic values.
Multiple lawmakers expressed concern that the more open approach toward Cuba was rewarding a brutal dictatorship, which has been accused of numerous human rights violations.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the announcement “the first steps toward Obama’s failed policies on Cuba.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who previously served as Florida governor, said he would suspend relevant nominees in the Senate until new administration policies toward Cuba are reversed.
“Biden can frame this any way he wants, but here’s the truth: This is nothing more than an idiotic attempt to revert to Obama’s failed appeasement policies and a clear sign of support for the evil regime,” Scott said in a scathing statement.
The Biden administration has been reviewing US policy toward Cuba for nearly a year after the Trump administration imposed a pressure campaign that restricted travel, isolated the Cuban government and imposed numerous sanctions on the island.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Cuba in July in demonstrations that went viral on social media as residents rejected dire economic conditions and food shortages.
Updated at 7:38 pm