Cuba’s financial woes are likely to be eased after United States officials announced plans to ease tough sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump.
Under new measures approved by the Biden administration, restrictions on family remittances and travel to the island will be eased. The processing of US visas for Cubans will also be speeded up.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the move would allow Cuban citizens to pursue a life free from “government oppression”.
But the Biden administration is restoring flights to Cuban cities other than Havana and re-establishing a family reunification program suspended for years, following recommendations of a long-anticipated review of US policy toward Cuba.
The administration will also allow group travel for educational or professional exchanges and lift caps on money sent to families on the island. Previously migrants were prevented from sending more than $1,000 every three months.
The policy changes come after a review that began in earnest after a series of protests disrupted the island last July, prompting a new round of US sanctions on Cuban officials.
Cuba is facing the worst economic crisis since the Soviet Union collapsed, with widespread shortages of food and medicines, and thousands of Cubans trying to reach the US. The new policy measures allow the administration to continue supporting the Cuban people and guarding US national security interests
Donations to non-family members will also be permitted under the new plans.
But US officials emphasised that they will seek to ensure such payments don’t reach “those who perpetrate human rights abuses” by using civilian “electronic payment processors”.
They also said that no bodies will be removed from the Cuba Restricted List, a State Department register of companies linked to the communist government in Havana with whom US citizens are barred from doing business.
More charter and commercial flights will be made available to Havana, US consular services on the island will be expanded and family reunification programmes will be relaunched.
After an easing of tensions under former President Barack Obama, Trump announced a range of sanctions on the Cuban government in 2017.
His administration slashed visa processing, restricted remittances and increased hurdles for US citizens seeking to travel to Cuba for any reason other than family visits.
At the time, Mr Trump cited human rights concerns as the reason for rolling back agreements made by the Obama administration and condemned his predecessor for doing a deal with the country’s “brutal” government.
Cuba’s foreign minister welcomed the announcement and said the easing of restrictions marked “a small step in the right direction”.
But there has been widespread criticism of the lifting of sanctions. A senior member of Biden’s Democratic party has condemned the move. Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denounced the lifting of restrictions, saying that the Cuban regime has continued “its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans from all walks of life”.