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Biden Issues Tepid Cuba Response: White House Will Review Increase In Embassy Staff, Form Working Group On Remittances
MIAMI, FLORIDA - JULY 13: Protesters shut down part of the Palmetto Expressway as they show their support for the people in Cuba that have taken to the streets to protest on July 13, 2021 in Miami, Florida. On Sunday, thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the country to protest pandemic restrictions, the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations and the Cuban government.
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The White House has finally released its plan for Cuba, in light of some of the largest pro-democracy protests the Communist island has seen in decades and the Biden administration is proposing just two lukewarm policy changes: a review of a potential increase in staff in its Havana embassy and a “working group” charged with considering remittances — allowing Cubans in exile to again send money to relatives suffering under the despotic Cuban regime.

The Miami Herald reported Monday that the administration “took steps on Monday to respond to a historic wave of protests in Cuba, ordering the State Department to review an increase in staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and forming a working group that will consider remittances for Cuban families.”

The White House is also leaving open the possibility of exploring sanctions against Cuba’s leaders, though the focus is largely on both the embassy and the remittances policy.

“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” an administration official told the Herald.

“The administration will form a Remittance Working Group to identify the most effective way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” according to the official who spoke with the media. The Herald added that the State Department “will review planning to augment staffing of U.S. Embassy Havana to facilitate diplomatic, consular, and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture.”

The Biden administration positioned the possible changes as a change from the Trump administration, which they say restricted both travel to the island and remittances, but the United States has retained diplomatic relations with Cuba since 2015 when then-President Barack Obama took steps to thaw a decades-long freeze out between the U.S. and the Communist nation.

The United States did, however, pull around half its staff from its embassy in Havana in 2017 after a series of “sonic attacks” that left embassy staff “unwell,” according to the BBC, and suspended visa processing until “the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our people, we will be reduced to emergency personnel,” per a State Department spokesperson at the time.

The change left tens of thousands of Cubans in “legal limbo” because of the resultant visa backlog.

Remittances have been largely suspended since mid-2020 when the Trump administration put sanctions “on Fincimex — a Cuban financial entity handling remittances — because of its links with the Cuban military.” Western Union, which processed remittance payments to Cubans still living on the island from Cubans in exile, was forced to suspend its services.

The Trump administration was concerned that remittances — which the Cuban government taxed at around 10-15% — were flowing into the hands of the Cuban military and then funneled to other Communist regimes, like the one in Venezuela.

Cubans in exile in Miami, Florida, and elsewhere had hoped the Biden administration would ramp up pressure for a regime change on the Communist island, but the White House took a cautious approach to that issue, saying only that it “will intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners” in order to encourage democracy.

“On July 11, the world watched as tens of thousands of Cuban citizens marched through Havana and cities across Cuba bravely asserting their fundamental and universal rights and demanding freedom and relief from the oppression of Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” the official said. “The Biden-Harris administration has and will continue to stand with the Cuban people.”

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