- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2022

The White House on Monday announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, easing several longstanding restrictions on travel, reinstating a dormant family reunification visa program, and removing restrictions on U.S. money entering the country.

Officials said the changes, which come as a reversal of the high-pressure tactics of the Trump administration, follow the Biden administration’s yearlong policy review.

A senior administration official said the policy changes are designed to “increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests.”

“These measures will aim to support greater freedom and expand economic opportunities for the Cuban people,” a senior official said Monday.

As part of the policy changes, the administration is reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Program, which has remained in suspension since 2016 due to U.S. personnel drawdowns at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

The program allows for certain U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply for parole for family members who remain in Cuba. Those family members that are granted parole are authorized to work in the U.S. while they await approval of their lawful permanent resident status.

The policies also reinstate certain travel categories including group “people-to-people” and educational travel to Cuba, which became authorized under the Obama administration, before many travel categories again became restricted under the Trump administration.

The policy will authorize scheduled charter flights to locations beyond Havana and will also allow travel for professional meetings and research. The policy does not allow for individual “people-to-people” travel.

The Biden administration is also lifting a $1,000 per-quarter limit on remittances sent from Cuban nationals in the U.S. to their family members in Cuba and will allow nonfamily remittances, which the administration says will support Cuban entrepreneurs.

The State Department will not remove entities from its Cuba Restricted List as part of the policy changes.

“With these actions, we aim to support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

“We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms, and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures,” he said.

The changes ignited immediate pushback from Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

Mr. Menendez said the policy change “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong changes.”

“For over 60 years, the tides of romanticism toward Cuba have come and gone, but they’ve always crashed hard against the rocks of reality,” Mr. Menendez said. “Today is another reminder that we must ground our policy in that reality, reaffirm our nation’s indiscriminate commitment to fight for democracy from Kyiv to Havana, and make clear we will measure our success in freedom and human rights and not money and commerce.”

He said he was especially “dismayed” by the expanded travel authorizations which he said were “akin to tourism.”

“To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial,” Mr. Menendez said. “For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom and nothing changed. And as I warned then, the regime ultimately laughed off any promises of loosening its iron grip on the Cuban people and we ended up helping fund the machinery behind their continued oppression.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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