The Biden administration says it will expand flights to Cuba, take steps to loosen restrictions on U.S. travelers to the island, and lift Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to people on the island.
The State Department said in a statement Monday that it will remove the current $1,000-per-quarter limit on family remittances and will allow non-family remittance, which will support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. The U.S. will also allow scheduled and charter flights to locations beyond Havana, according to the State Department.
The administration said it will also move to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which has a backlog of more than 20,000 applications, and increase consular services and visa processing.
The policy changes come after a review that began soon after a series of widespread protests on the island last July.
Former President Donald Trump had increased sanctions against Cuba, including the cancellation of permits to send remittances and the punishment of oil tankers bound for the island.
These measures and the pandemic contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba, where people suffer from shortages of basic products, as well as power outages and rationing.
The economic situation led thousands of people to the streets across Cuba on July 11, 2021 — the largest such protests in decades on the island. Many people were frustrated with shortages and low salaries, and with the socialist government. Nongovernmental organizations have reported more than 1,400 arrests and 500 people sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for vandalism or sedition.
In recent weeks, both the U.S. and the Cuban governments have started some conversations, amid a surge of Cubans trying to immigrate illegally to the U.S.
The first week of April, the U.S. Embassy in Havana resumed processing visas for Cubans, though on a limited basis, more than four years after stopping consular services on the island amid a hardening of relations.
Two senior administration officials, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, noted that the Treasury Department has the authority to audit groups that are organizing travel and will ensure that travel is purposeful and in accordance with U.S. law. The U.S. is restricting American tourism on the island and won’t allow individuals to travel there for educational purposes, officials said.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on his Twitter account called the Biden administration move "a limited step in the right direction.” He added that the decision doesn’t change the embargo nor most Trump-era measures against the island.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.