White House decision awaited on Cuba remittances, U.S. official says

US government relaxed restrictions for sending remittances to Cuba
HAVANA, Feb. 4th  The White House has received recommendations for easing the flow of remittances to Cuba that was severely restricted under the Trumpadministration and “we await their decision,” a senior U.S. State Department official said on Thursday.

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.

A senior U.S. official said in November that the White House had received remittance proposals but some had been sent back for further work to ensure that money sent by Cuban Americans to families on the island did not fall into the hands of Cuba’s  government or military.
Nichols said that was still a key objective in any move to expand remittances, once a financial lifeline for many Cubans, but did not provide any timetable for a decision.“Those recommendations are with the White House and we await their decision,” he told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Western Hemisphere policy.

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.

The Biden administration slapped sanctions on Cuban officials and security forces in response to Havana’s crackdown on protesters in July and has since imposed further measures over Cuba’s prosecution of hundreds of jailed protesters.

Strict limits on remittances were imposed by Trump, who rolled back a historic rapprochement that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, oversaw between the United States and its old Cold War foe.Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, promised during the 2020 election campaign against Trump to re-engage with Cuba’s government.

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.

The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in November, said Biden had instructed aides reviewing Cuba policy to develop a “third way” that is “tough on the regime and soft on the Cuban people.”

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.