Exclusive: U.S. House Democrats urge Biden to revert to Obama-era Cuba detente

The letter was led by lawmakers Bobby Rush, Gwen Moore, Barbara Lee and Steve Cohen, long-time supporters of engagement with Cuba.

Exclusive: U.S. House Democrats urge Biden to revert to Obama-era Cuba detente
Exclusive: U.S. House Democrats urge Biden to revert to Obama-era Cuba detente

In a letter to Biden seen by Reuters they urged the Democratic president to sign an executive order “without delay” to finish restrictions on travel and remittances, noting that overflow half Cubans depend upon the latter.

“With the stroke of a pen, you'll assist struggling Cuban families and promote a more constructive approach,” they said.The letter was led by lawmakers Bobby Rush, Gwen Moore, Barbara Lee and Steve Cohen, long-time supporters of engagement with Cuba. Signers also included the leaders of the influential House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Financial Services and Appropriations committees.

Biden, a Democrat, vowed during his campaign to reverse policy shifts by the Republican Trump that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”Trump’s tightening of the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba has inflicted further pain on its ailing state-run economy, contributing to worsening shortages of food and medicine.

Biden has not yet indicated whether he will fully revert to the historic detente initiated by Democratic former President Barack Obama when Biden was vice chairman .“This letter, signed by variety of key powerbrokers within the House of Representatives, will help empower U.S. policy officials within the Biden administration who seek to rebuild what Trump destroyed - a constructive, productive and civil approach toward Cuba and its people,” said Peter Kornbluh, co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba” and senior analyst at the National Security Archive.

The Trump administration took quite 200 initiatives to tighten the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba over four years, citing concerns a few lack of democracy and Havana’s support for Venezuela’s socialist government.Critics said Trump’s approach didn't address such concerns and was more likely aimed toward winning over voters within the swing state of Florida, which features a large Cuban-American population and did back Trump within the Nov. 3 election.

The letter also urged Biden to restart diplomatic engagement on areas of mutual interest like health and security and restaff the U.S. embassy, which was reduced to skeletal staffing under Trump over still unexplained health incidents among U.S. diplomats in Havana.It should also “reverse the recent politicized decision by the departing Trump Administration to feature Cuba back to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” the letter states.

On Jan. 11, nine days before the top of his presidency, Trump added Cuba to the list, which among other things carries a prohibition on U.S. aid and a requirement that Washington oppose loans to Cuba by institutions like the planet Bank.

A White House official dampened hopes for a fast Cuba policy shift in an interview with Reuters at the weekend, saying it had been not currently among Biden’s top priorities, which include the coronavirus pandemic, economic recovery and rebuilding alliances abroad.

Asked about the prospects for loosening up remittances and easing restrictions on family trips, the White House official said: “The best ambassadors are the American people, specifically the Cuban-American people maybe coming in with remittances and travel.”