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Biden Administration Lifting Some Trump-Era Restrictions on Cuba

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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 USA, its first moves toward fulfilling President Biden’s campaign promise to reverse most 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 recent waves of Cubans trying to succeed in 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 Recent Jersey, a Cuban American Democrat who’s the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Today’s announcement,” he said, “risks sending the flawed message to the flawed people, on the flawed time and for all of the flawed reasons.”

The split between Mr. Biden and Mr. Menendez goes to the center of differences in each political parties about the best way to take care of 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. Nevertheless it also made it harder to satisfy his campaign promise to revive the form of relationship the Obama administration envisioned, and which Mr. Biden endorsed as vp.

But Biden administration officials concluded that restoring the establishment from January 2017, when the Obama administration left office, is as complicated within the case of Cuba because it is in that of Iran, where a parallel effort has faltered.

The Biden administration’s policy review concluded that the most effective approach 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’s shipping technology to Cubans to assist them avoid government censorship and to assist 20,000 people rejoin members of the family in the USA.

Mr. Menendez takes a really different view: that the one approach to change the behavior of the Cuban government is to choke off its revenues. He objected specifically to the administration’s decision to permit groups to travel to Cuba, though not individual tourists.

“I’m dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism,” Mr. Menendez said in an announcement.

“To be clear, those that still consider that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial,” he said. “For a long time, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has modified. For years, the USA foolishly eased travel restrictions, arguing thousands and thousands of American dollars would bring about freedom, and nothing modified.”

The biggest program that’s being revived is the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which allowed as much as 20,000 immigration visas to the USA annually. The State Department is predicted to announce that it’s stepping up the approval of visas on the embassy in Havana. There are 22,000 applications, officials said, that nobody has acted on up to now five years.

The administration can also be relaxing the ban on family remittances of $1,000 1 / 4 to ensure the payments go to individuals, not businesses. Nevertheless it is unclear how the movement of cash will probably be completed: The important financial processing firm, called Fincimex, has been run by the Cuban military.

In a conversation with reporters on Monday night, White House officials sidestepped certainly one of the thorniest issues in the hassle to undo the sanctions imposed by President Donald J. Trump: the continuing mystery over whether the Cuban government was answerable for mysterious ailments which have afflicted diplomats and C.I.A. personnel around the globe.

The C.I.A. said in January that the ailments, broadly often known as Havana syndrome because they were first identified among the many U.S. delegation in Cuba, are unlikely to have been attributable to Cuba, Russia or one other foreign adversary.

The agency argued that a majority of the 1,000 cases reported to the federal government could possibly be explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress, relatively than a sustained global campaign by a foreign power. Groups representing the victims were indignant, and the C.I.A. said studies were continuing for about two dozen cases that remained unexplained.

Biden administration officials have said recently that the inconclusive findings left them somewhat stuck, unable to resolve the Havana syndrome mystery and thus unable to do much with the diplomatic relationship.

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