U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols also told lawmakers that Washington would send temporary-duty consular officers to the U.S. embassy in Havana in the “not-too-distant future” to increase visa processing there, another step that would loosen limits imposed under former President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden in July asked the Treasury Department and State Department to study the matter and report back to him with a list of options.
Relations have remained tense, especially since protests in Cuba erupted in July amid a severe economic crisis and a surge in COVID-19 infections. Thousands of people took to the streets of Cuban cities, angry over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties, and the handling of the pandemic by authorities. Scores of protesters were arrested.
Biden administration officials are mindful that any easing of restrictions on Cuba could lead to the political fallout from conservative Cuban Americans, who make up a large voting bloc in South Florida and mostly backed Trump’s tough policies toward Cuba, helping him to win the important swing state last year.
Asked what Cuba would have to do to secure increased U.S. engagement, Nichols said that could include the release of political prisoners arrested since the July protests and allowing greater freedom of speech and access to the Internet.