Reflecting on Cuba Policy: All Talk, No Action

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Author: Antonio Saadipour Sellés

This article was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Advocate.

Throughout his presidential campaign, President Biden committed to ushering in a new era of Cuba policy, promising to constructively engage with our island neighbor and lift restrictions on travel and remittances, among other steps. After almost a year in office, he has yet to deliver on practically any of his Cuba promises, citing earlier in the year that a shift in Cuba policy was not a priority for his administration and that the administration would only move forward after conducting a thorough review of past Cuba policies. 

Publicly, the Biden-Harris Administration has declared that its approach to Cuba would be guided by two principles: support for democracy and human rights and that Americans, particularly Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for prosperity in Cuba. We have seen thus far few signs of a return to the opening to Cuba under the Obama-Biden Administration. In fact, in May, the State Department chose to sustain a Trump-era Cuba policy by redesignating Cuba as one of the countries not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts

In July, Cuban protesters took to the streets to express frustration over food and medicine shortages, long lines, electricity outages, and a slow vaccination pace—constituting the largest protests in Cuba since the 1990s. The White House responded by establishing a Remittance Working Group to determine how Cuban Americans could send remittances to their family members in Cuba without the Cuban government pocketing a significant portion of that revenue. The unrest on the island was the catalyst that forced the Biden-Harris Administration to consider engagement with Cuba a top priority.

LAWG signed onto a letter to President Biden in August urging him to take immediate humanitarian steps, such as suspending U.S. regulations that prevent assistance from reaching Cuba and the Cuban people. He complied to an extent, authorizing some emergency flights to deliver humanitarian aid to Cuba. Nevertheless, these emergency measures were accompanied by several rounds of sanctions on top Cuban government officials. 

The State Department announced in September that it would begin restaffing the U.S. Embassy in Havana, a move that would restore consular services to Cubans and facilitate engagement with civil society. As of now, this is the only campaign promise regarding Cuba policy that President Biden has actually fulfilled. We hope that it will be the first step of many to come and that soon, restrictions on travel and remittances, inhumane sanctions, Internet blackouts, obstructions to the flow of humanitarian aid, and accusations of terrorism sponsorship will become a relic of the past. But this won’t be easy. Stay tuned for actions you can take to move towards a constructive relationship between the United States and Cuba!