President Joe Biden is redefining the U.S.-Cuba relationship again, reversing many of former President Donald Trump's reforms.
The White House is restoring U.S. flights to cities other than the Cuban capital of Havana, permitting educational and professional group travel, reestablishing the family reunification program, and removing caps on the amount of money that can be sent to families on the island, according to senior administration officials. The family remittance cap is currently $1,000 per quarter.
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"These are actions that we see as in the national interest of the United States," one staffer told reporters Monday. "They're practical steps that we're taking to find ways to expand support for the Cuban people."
The reforms incorporate improving the U.S. Embassy in Havana's visa processing capacity, which had been scaled back over concerns regarding "Havana syndrome," a mysterious illness afflicting U.S. diplomats abroad.
"We are working closely with all the relevant bureaus, at the Department of State and across the interagency as well, on plans to investigate and get to the bottom of the anomalous health incidents," an aide said. "As we do so, we are working to increase staff with an appropriate security posture."
One senior administration official sought to decouple Monday's announcement with the Summit of the Americas, scheduled from June 6-10 in Los Angeles. The source said Biden and his top diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Christopher Dodd, did not want to "blow up the summit over who shows up and who doesn't."
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not provide an update earlier Monday on whether Cuba had been invited to the summit. Invites are yet to be distributed, she told reporters during her first briefing in her new role.
Jen Psaki, Jean-Pierre's former boss, described the summit this month as "a valuable opportunity to focus on some of the most important shared issues."
"Like the ongoing fight for freedom and democracy for every country, our shared climate goals, a stronger, more collaborative COVID-19 response, and addressing the root causes of migration, like going after organized crime and economic instability," she said.
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Biden's decision has already been criticized by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants.
“As the Diaz-Canel regime continues its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans from all walks of life for their participation in last year’s pro-democracy uprising, today’s announcement risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons," Menendez said.
Chairman Menendez's statement on the Biden administration's announced changes to United States policy toward Cuba: pic.twitter.com/mPxe0fgrk3— Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SFRCdems) May 16, 2022