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White House To Loosen Some Cuba Restrictions

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Monday that it’ll expand flights to Cuba, take steps to loosen restrictions on U.S. travelers to the island, and lift Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to people on the island.

The State Department said in a press release that it’ll remove the present $1,000-per-quarter limit on family remittances and can allow non-family remittance, which is able to support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. The U.S. will even allow scheduled and charter flights to locations beyond Havana, in response to the State Department.

The administration said it’ll also move to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which has a backlog of greater than 20,000 applications, and increase consular services and visa processing.

“With these actions, we aim to support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities in order that they’ll lead successful lives at home,” State Department spokesman Ned Price added. “We proceed to call on the Cuban government to right away release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to permit the Cuban people to find out their very own futures.”

The policy changes come after a review that began soon after a series of widespread protests on the island last July.

Former President Donald Trump had increased sanctions against Cuba, including the cancellation of permits to send remittances and the punishment of oil tankers certain for the island.

These measures and the pandemic contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba, where people suffer from shortages of basic products, power outages and rationing.

The economic situation led 1000’s of individuals to the streets across Cuba on July 11, 2021 — the biggest such protests in a long time on the island. Many individuals were frustrated with shortages and low salaries, as well with the socialist government. Nongovernmental organizations have reported greater than 1,400 arrests and 500 people sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for vandalism or sedition.

In recent weeks, each the U.S. and the Cuban governments have began some conversations, amid a surge of Cubans attempting to emigrate illegally to the U.S.

The primary week of April, the U.S. Embassy in Havana resumed processing visas for Cubans, though on a limited basis, greater than 4 years after stopping consular services on the island amid a hardening of relations.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a Latest Jersey Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the moves send the “incorrect message” to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government. Menendez was particularly critical of the administration decision to reinstate travel by groups for educational and cultural exchanges in addition to some travel for skilled meetings and skilled research on the island.

“I’m dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism,” Menendez said. “To be clear, those that still imagine that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial.”

White House officials, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, noted that the Treasury Department has the authority to audit groups which can be organizing travel and can be certain that travel is purposeful and in accordance with U.S. law.

One official defending the move noted that the president has underscored his belief that “Americans are the perfect ambassadors for democratic values.”

Rodriguez reported from Havana.

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