New US Measures for Cuba: Content and Timing

Timing conditions political announcements. This is one of the key problems with the US Government’s declaration. Photo: Yaritza Guirado.

By Armando Chaguaceda and Eloy Viera (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – Measures announced by the Biden Administration lack creativity (although this was expected), and have come at the wrong time, politically-speaking. They resemble the incomplete replication of Obama’s policy for a Cuba that isn’t anything like the Cuba during the “thawing” process.

Some of the measures, such as increasing the influx of remittances, had been announced since July 2021, after a meeting between the US president with members of the Cuban community at the White House – just a few days after the largest social protests Cuba’s seen since 1959.

That said, the Biden Administration announced relaxations of this measure on May 16, 2022, the day after the National Assembly passed the new Penal Code that further restricts Cubans’ freedoms and rights.

The contents of the Biden Administration’s announcement also reveal that the domestic situation in Cuba – hundreds of political prisoners being taken to court and imprisoned and the passing of an abusive Penal Code – hasn’t been taken into account when making such decisions – or at least at the time of announcing them.

For example, the US Government announced that it will be working to increase support to independent Cuban entrepreneurs. One of the likely displays of this support will be these entrepreneurs having access to microfinance from the US.

A statement like this completely fails to recognize the impossibility – regulated by the Cuban Government – of Cuban entrepreneurs – even when they form part of SMEs – of being able to legally receive foreign investment or funding. It also ignores hiked up restrictions – including criminal sanctions – or surveillance those receiving foreign funds are subjected to, as they are not connected to (or tolerated) by the Government.

The trend hasn’t been a total and unlimited opening of this private economic sector on the archipelago. On the contrary, expanding this sector was considered a necessary evil and many people believe that it was desperately implemented because of the result of the 11J protests, as it had been delayed for a long time. The Biden Administration’s announcement seems to recognize – albeit mistakingly from our point of view – that growth of the Cuban private sector has been natural and that the US executive power’s plans could accelerate it – although some of them are unfeasible in Cuban reality today.

At the same time, this series of measures seems to respond to the migration crisis caused by Cuba in conspiracy with its Nicaraguan allies. Furthermore, it falls back on Biden’s election promise, which was at a standstill because of the Cuban Government’s stance. It’s likely that pressure from Latin American Governments in the lead-up to the Summit of the Americas, that will be held in Los Angeles in June 2022, is also playing a role. The Biden Administration might have thought that these measures would help to get on the good side of those who are reluctant to take part in the conclave and prevent the Cuban issue from taking center stage at the meeting.

The bulk of the measures proposed by the US Administration are humanitarian in nature: increasing the number of flights to Cuban provinces and resuming consular services, as well as the family reunification program. They are also proposing to eliminate the limit on remittances. The latter has been discussed at great length. Many people believe it’s a mechanism that benefits the Cuban elite linked to those in power and not your ordinary folk. 

A limit of 1000 USD per trimester had been placed on remittances up until the announcement of these new measures. This is the equivalent of approximately 333 USD, which Cuban-Americans were able to send back to their families every month. In order to get a better idea of the impact of removing this limit on remittances, we need to first ask ourselves how many members of the Cuban diaspora community are able to send over 333 USD per month to their family members on the archipelago. It’s also worth asking how and who are the beneficiaries in Cuba that receive more than this figure?

The Biden Administration’s announcement doesn’t specify whether the measure regarding remittances is the result of a recommendation from the Remittance Working Gorup – created in mid-2021 to study the best way to get remittances directly to the Cuban people – or a return to US-Cuba policy before the Trump era. This isn’t a trivial detail because, despite the Administration announcing its desire to “guarantee remittances reach the Cuban people more freely and not fill the pockets of those committing human rights violations, they aren’t proposing a concrete means to achieve this – aside from getting rid of the limit. 

These measures don’t represent a total return to the “thawing” process in the Obama era, but they aren’t reversing Trump’s policy completely either. Meanwhile:

– Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act remain in force, after being waived for decades since its implementation.

– Cuba is still on the US’ State Sponsors of Terrorism list and on the list of countries that restrict religious freedom.

– Shipping companies or cruise ships aren’t back yet. 

On the other hand, the list of organizations sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury remains in force, which makes it hard for many of the announced measures to be implemented – accommodation for groups visiting Cuba, for example. The section detailing support for the entrepreneurial sector – beyond the contradictions I’ve outlined above – doesn’t reveal any concrete breakthroughs, as the announcement only specifies that “options will be explored”, which reveals little progress and is in line with what the Biden Administration has announced at other opportunities. 

In a nutshell, these measures are mostly humanitarian in nature and could have been announced at a more opportune time, politically-speaking, and with less restrictions on Cuba’s civic space, like for example in Spring 2021, (when the Cuban health system began to collapse with the COVID-19 pandemic).

Timing conditions political announcements. This is one of the key problems with the US Government’s declaration. The timing of this announcement reveals shortcomings in US political strategy when it comes to Cuba. A strategy that, far from leaning towards proactivity and creativity, is reactive; which makes it an easy prey for pressure created by the Cuban regime (migration crisis) and Latin American Governments (including Cuba at the Summit of the Americas).

It’s likely this pressure was the reason the US Government was forced to also include measures, in this last series, that have been proven to benefit the Cuban regime, such as cultural trips. 

These “exchanges” – which are selective among other things – have been used by the Castro-line influence apparatus to project propoaganda and seek international legitimacy, thanks to support from the foreign far-Left (in political and intellectual terms), which perpetuates censorship and silencing dissident and independent voices, which are being challenged by the Cuban press and intellectuals. At this point in time, cultural exchanges without the basic requirements of consistency and reciprocity – such as exchanges at the heart of the US academic network like LASA – will only benefit Havana.

A better thought-out, smart US policy is needed, that seeks to empower potential agents of change both in and outside of Cuba, that shows to the Cuban people and international community that the Cuban regime is the obstacle to national development, and not the US Government.  

Thus, US policy towards Cuba needs to put human rights at its heart, as well as looking out for and assisting activists, political prisoners, and their families. Empowerment of a privileged sector in economic terms, which dissidents of official policies will never belong to – because of the regime’s blockade, shouldn’t be the only trump card Biden has up his sleeve to contribute – like it set out to do – to democratize a Cuba that is nothing like its former self in 2014.

US policy needs to also go hand-in-hand with a communication strategy addressed to the Cuban people. 

When the US decides about its own policy, and Cubans must wait and see whether this will come to a halt, or whether its part of a process, just beginning, of making sanctions more flexible. But furthermore, we have to keep an eye on whether the regime will answer with liberalizing – economic or political – measures and what their scope will be.

This monitoring will allow us to assess the efficiency of a policy that is for us in theory; but something we can’t control because it isn’t ours.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

4 thoughts on “New US Measures for Cuba: Content and Timing

  • Bob Michaels:

    I am sure all the readers who have read your post would agree that something needs to be done soon to remedy the dire economic and social situation in Cuba. However, what you have proposed particularly in light of the new Cuban “Penal Code” introduced and now enshrined by the communist totalitarian government makes any citizens’ attempt at a perceived plot to overthrow the government, and that is exactly how any “week long strike” would be perceived, is futile. Such an attempt would be completely ineffectual and punishable by all involved with elongated prison sentences.

    July 11th , a peaceful street protest, caught the Cuban totalitarian government off guard somewhat. Such a wide peaceful citizen protest by primarily Cuba’s youth was not expected. No doubt in its aftermath it sent shock waves reverberating within the communist Party leadership who again no doubt felt externally embarrassed and threatened. So, in the final analysis whenever a totalitarian state, anywhere in this world, has its power threatened it summarily introduces new laws, new policies, new restrictions to prevent, via severe prison punishment any perceived or actual threat from reoccurring.

    Michael writes: “How about the Cuban people staging a week long strike of everyone who works for all the government agencies?” Such a thing would be economical suicide for any government worker to do such a thing. The employer, the totalitarian communist government, would fire the employees first and then invoke the newly constituted Penal Code severe punishments enshrined in the Cuban Constitution which now clearly outlines what the penalties are for so called “crimes” against the state.

    The newly minted Penal Code is very exact and explicit. In the HT article Cuba: Power Behind the Penal Code, May 23, 2022, Reinaldo Escobar quotes one appropriate article: “Article 80 of the Constitution says that Cuban citizens have the right, among other things, to “exercise legislative initiative and constitutional reform.” Great. Sounds inoffensive.

    So, it seems that those government workers have the right to exercise legislative initiatives and constitutional reform on the streets. But wait – hold your horses. Further, in the metaphorical weeds of this seemingly inoffensive Penal Code it also states, and again this is taken from HT’s Cuba: Power Behind the Penal Code: “Just in case, so that no one is mistaken, article 229 makes it clear that “in no case are pronouncements on the irrevocability of the socialist system questionable.” Furthermore and extremely pertinent, “Neither by hook nor by crook does the Constitution allow the socialist system to be discarded.” So, now it is very clear to all those even thinking of striking on streets for constitutional reform.

    So, Michael, the message to Diaz-Canel, Raul, and the old guard that the people are unhappy and ready to do something and ready to go out on the streets to strike for government change, to strike for a modicum of basic rights, to strike for some freedom of expression, to these autocratic dictators such citizen human rights would be an anathema to their very existence – not going to happen. Now, for the external audience – usually their nemesis the USA government – the Cuban government can publicly quote their newly revised Constitution in broad terms and say they are simply upholding the Cuban law.

    Michael also writes: “Fidel was one who at least got off his *ss and did something.” He certainly did do “something” which after 60 plus years the majority of Cubans have had to suffer enormously economically and socially and to this day are still waiting for this “something” to come to some form of fruition.

  • I am reading a lot of “The US did not do much for the Cuban people yesterday. What is the US going to do for us tomorrow?” How about the Cuban people helping out some? Fidel was one who at least got off his *ss and did something. An armed revolution is not practical today.

    How about the Cuban people staging a week long strike of everyone who works for all the government agencies? Would that send a message to Diaz-Canel, Raul, and the old guard that the people are unhappy and ready to do something? And would that send a message to US powers that the Cuban people are worthy of more US support?

  • I shall leave the dogma and cherry picked historical excerpts to others.
    This slow, grinding shift in U.S. policy is all about Venezuelan oil. The need for an oil supply at a reasonable price outweighs the need for FLA electoral college votes in two years time.
    It is one of many ripple effects to come from Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine.

  • Discussions about Cuba are unfortunately merely academic. For Cuba remains in the grip of communist ideology and practice – that is why one repeatedly writes that nothing changes in Cuba.

    It is correct that US policy lacks imagination, but how can imagination affect the dogmatic? Diplomacy regarding Cuba remains merely an ever hopeful but unsuccessful talking shop.

    The preamble with the negotiations in Canada which led to the Obama visit took considerably longer, but from the time of Obama’s speech at the Alicia Alonso Theatre when he opened the door to negotiation, the described “thawing period” lasted exactly one week before non other than Fidel Castro gave it the cold shoulder, rejecting it outright, to be followed by the compliant, faithful Bruno Rodriguez one day later confirming that as the official response.

    One may reflect upon post-war diplomacy with communist Russia whose Stalinist interpretation of Marx/Engels/Lenin was admired by Raul Castro in particular. In forty four years, there was but one real success and that was the withdrawal from Austria – which remains unique as the only territory which having once occupied, Russia voluntarily left. To my knowledge, there were at least 147 meetings between Russian and Allied diplomats to achieve that result.

    But the concept that a US diplomacy or policy change would result in a “change of heart” upon the part of the Cuban Communist regime is false, for it has but one objective and that is to be accepted as it is!

    The shackles that bind the people of Cuba, like those worn by the peoples of Eastern Europe, will only be removed when the Cuban Communist regime, like that of Russia and the Soviet Union, rots from within.

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