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US lifts some Trump-era restrictions on Cuba, including limits on travel and remittances

The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would roll back some Trump-era restrictions on Cuba, including limits on travel and remittances, and tighten visa processing in Havana.

The changes, the most significant in U.S.-Cuban policy since President Joe Biden took office, follow a lengthy policy review.

A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration will continue to raise the issue of human rights, the treatment of political prisoners and labor rights in Cuba, as well as “empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future”.

The United States will allow charter and commercial flights to airports outside of Havana. Under the Trump administration, flights to Cuba were limited to Havana airport. A senior administration official also said the United States would reinstate group educational travel under a general license, but would not reinstate individual “person-to-person” educational travel.

The $1,000 per quarter caps on family rebates will be lifted. Western Union closed its offices in Cuba in 2020 after President Donald Trump sanctioned its partner company, the military-run Fincimex. Fincimex will remain under US sanctions. The senior government official said the United States had stressed to Cuba the need to find a civilian entity that could process remittances to develop electronic payments.

Visa processing at the Havana Embassy will be increased and Cuba’s parole program for family reunification will be reinstated. Under the Trump administration, visa processing was drastically reduced after embassy staff were affected by mysterious health incidents known as “Havana Syndrome”.

In recent years, the United States has failed to process the 20,000 annual migrant visas it accepted nearly three decades ago.

Cuba is facing a severe economic crisis, with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation due to sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of Cuban migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border has skyrocketed in recent months. Nearly 100,000 have been apprehended by customs and border protection since October.

Bruno Rodríguez, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote on Twitter that the US government’s announcement was “a limited step in the right direction”, but criticized the United States for not changing the embargo or removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Biden vowed during his 2020 campaign that he would undo “Trump’s failed policies that have hurt Cubans and their families.” His administration had conducted a lengthy review of Cuban policy.

Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., a Cuban-American who serves as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that the administration’s announcement “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, to the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons.”

“I am appalled to learn that the Biden administration will begin allowing group travel to Cuba through tourism-like tours,” Menendez wrote. “To be clear, those who still believe that increased travel will spawn democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial.”

The United States will host the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles the week of June 6. Administration officials have faced backlash from leaders in some leftist countries after some U.S. officials hinted that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua would not be invited.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that “if everyone is not invited, I will not go”.

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