Amid wave of repression in Cuba, Biden says he won’t lift restrictions on remittances

An elderly woman stands next to pictures of Cuban late leaders in a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021. President Joe Biden said he will not reverse restrictions on remittances to Cuba unless he gets guarantees the money would not fill the communist government's coffers. (Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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Nora Gamez Torres and Alex Roarty Miami Herald (TNS)

Departing from a campaign promise, President Joe Biden said he will not reverse restrictions on remittances to Cuba imposed by the previous Republican administration unless he gets guarantees the money would not fill the communist government’s coffers.

The six-decade-old regime has been shaken by islandwide anti-government street demonstrations and responded by unleashing a wave of repression that has led to hundreds of arrests and left at least one person dead.

Biden acknowledged the ongoing repression on the island during comments to reporters at the White House on Thursday.

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“Cuba is a, unfortunately, a failed state … and is repressing its citizens,” he said. “There are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require different circumstances or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government.”

“For example, the ability to send remittances back to Cuba. I would not do that now because of the fact it’s highly likely that the regime would confiscate those remittances or big chunks,” he said.

The Donald Trump administration sanctioned several Cuban financial entities last year, including Fincimex, which handled remittances to the island, because of its links to the Cuban military. Sanctions to Fincimex caused Western Union to suspend its services to Cuba, leaving many Cuban Americans without legal ways to send money to their families on the island in the middle of a pandemic.

Before the demonstrations erupted Sunday, the Biden administration had signaled it was considering reversing some of Trump’s policies, including restrictions on remittances, citing humanitarian concerns.

Biden had made this a campaign promise, and the administration started a review of the entire Cuba policy earlier this year while also declaring that it was not a priority.

But the volatile situation on the island had made the administration pay more attention to events there and in Miami, where a large Cuban American community has called on the president to support the uprising. Biden released a statement on Monday calling the protests a “clarion call for freedom and relief.”

After Cubans took to the streets on Sunday in several cities chanting “down with the dictatorship,” the Cuban government has repeatedly accused the U.S. of plotting and financing the uprising.

While U.S. officials have called on the Cuban government to stop the violence against the demonstrators, U.S. authorities have taken steps to prevent another migration crisis. In a press conference on Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez hinted the U.S. was risking another exodus of Cuban migrants.

“We have contingency plans, and actually, created a much more robust presence along the Florida Straits to make sure we are prepared to manage any sort of migration in that regard,¨a senior White House official told reporters on Thursday. “The statement of the Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, threatening a mass migration, reflects a lack of care for Cubans who would risk their lives to come to the United States.”

(McClatchy Washington Bureau correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this story.)

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