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Cuba gets relief from US

Regional 24 Jun, 2024 Follow News

President Miguel Diaz-Canel is under pressure to change

Frustrated Cubans have openly marched to show their despair

Private businesses like ice cream parlours are flourishing

Protests in Havana have alarmed the Cuban government

Cuba’s magnificent American car taxis needs more trade

Cuba’s 11.2 million citizens have endured many challenges over the decades and in recent years, life has become almost insufferable; but at least the stringent rules the United States have imposed have been eased, at least until the presidential elections in November.

Near starvation, lack of basic infrastructure and amenities, rampant inflation and authoritarian rule has been the bane of the average Cuban’s life in recent years, exacerbated by the pandemic, hyper-inflation and global recession.  It’s led to street protests in Havana and other cities as a result, something unheard of in the past under the rule of the Castros, Fidel and Raul.

But there is a glimmer of relief for some Cubans. The Biden administration is opening up US online payment systems to Cuba’s private business owners, senior administration officials announced last week.

The change in policy will allow independent private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba to import food, equipment and other goods, claim the officials. It will also make it easier for remittances to be sent to Cuba and help to stem widespread migration from the island, officials feel. Cuba has historically been heavily dependent on remittances, but sanctions imposed in recent years has severely blunted that vital income for many needy people.

In 2022, the Biden administration announced a series of policy changes aimed at supporting Cubans on the island, including reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program and increasing consular services and visa processing. It has only just been ratified.

This announcement comes with the US presidential elections in mind and how President Joe Biden navigates Cuba could carry political implications, given he lost Florida to Donald Trump in the 2020 election. During that campaign Trump repeatedly claimed Biden would turn the US into a “socialist country” if he won, a message that resonated with Cuban Americans and Latinos generally in America.

The perception is that the Cuban government’s mismanagement of its economy has led to uncontrollable inflation but income from the private sector can improve the quality of life for Cubans. There are over 11,000 private businesses registered in Cuba and those businesses could take advantage of the changes being rolled out.

Young Cubans are eager to earn relatively high private sector wages, rather than work for far less in state employment. Private business leaders are forging ahead and given new opportunities as US sanctions lift, they can be even more successful, thus boosting the Cuban economy. Small businesses like ice cream parlours, clothes, cigar and grocery shops as well as restaurants are flourishing. The famous American car taxi service has been struggling in recent times, mainly because American tourists find it extremely difficult to visit.  

The welcome changes exclude any members of the Cuban Communist Party, Cuban National Assembly members, Cuban military officers, or certain ministry and staff regime propagandists, officials said.

Meanwhile, a Russian nuclear-powered submarine – not carrying nuclear weapons – visited Havana this week, Cuban officials announced, amid rising tensions with the US over the war in Ukraine.

The nuclear submarine Kazan and three other Russian naval vessels, including the missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov, an oil tanker and a salvage tug, docked in the Cuban capital on Wednesday and they are expected to leave on Monday.

“None of the vessels is carrying nuclear weapons, so their stopover in our country does not represent a threat to the region,” the ministry said.

Last week’s announcement came a day after US officials said that Washington had been tracking Russian warships and aircraft that were expected to arrive in the Caribbean for a military exercise. They said the exercise would be part of a broader Russian response to US support for Ukraine. US officials said that the Russian military presence was notable but not concerning.

However, it comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Moscow may take retaliatory action elsewhere in the world in response to Biden’s decision to allow Ukraine to use US-provided weapons to strike inside Russia to protect Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with Putin last month for the annual May 9 military parade on Red Square, outside the Kremlin.

As an example of the lightening of tensions between the US and Cuba, the US has removed Cuba from a short list of countries the US alleges are “not cooperating fully” in its fight against terrorism, a State Department official said.

The official cited the resumption of law enforcement cooperation between Cuba and the US as one of the reasons why the previous ruling was deemed “no longer appropriate”.

The decision marks a concession by the Biden administration, which until now has largely maintained Trump-era restrictions on the Communist-run island.

Former US President Donald Trump separately designated Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism shortly before leaving office, which Cuba maintains has contributed to a severe economic crisis on the island, and to shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez applauded this decision by the Biden administration but said it does not go far enough. North Korea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela remain listed as not cooperating fully with US counterterrorism efforts.

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