On May 16, 2022, the White House held a press briefing on what it called “Our New Cuba Policy.” After examining the details of that briefing, we will evaluate that so called “New Policy” and conclude that it is inadequate by failing to call for elimination of (a) the U.S. embargo of Cuba and (b) the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”
U.S. “New Cuba Policy”
The “new” policy was said to be designed “to increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests” and resulted from the U.S. study over the last year that “continues to center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future, and we continue to call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners.” This review was directed by President Biden to take actions in response to “the large-scale [Cuban] protests that took place last July” and “to take actions in two primary areas:”
- “The first is to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights abuses.”
- “Second, . . . to explore meaningful ways to support the Cuban people.”
Therefore, the “new” policy has “prioritized and facilitated the export of privately sourced or donated goods to the Cuban people, focusing specifically on agricultural and medical exports; facilitated U.S. private sector faith-based organizations and other NGOs to provide humanitarian support; provided guidance to individuals and entities seeking to export to Cuba for the first time; . . . increased our support for the families of those who were detained; and increased, by $5 million, our support for censorship circumvention technology to support the ability of the Cuban people to communicate to, from, and among each other.”
In addition, the “new” policy was stated to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to the “Cuban American community and their family members in Cuba” by the following measures:
- “[R]einstate the Cuba Family Reunification Parole Program and continue to increase the capacity for consular services. . . . [The U.S.] resumed limited immigrant visa processing [in Cuba] in early May and are looking to make sure that we staff up so that we can begin processing the full 20,000 immigrant visas out of Havana as quickly as possible.”
- “[Strengthen] family ties and . . . [facilitate] educational connections for American and Cuban people by expanding authorized travel. . . . [That includes] specifically authorizing commercial and charter flights to locations beyond Havana. We are reinstating group people-to-people educational travel under a general license, among a number of other measures. We are not reinstating individual people-to-people educational travel.”
- “[w]e are increasing support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs. That includes encouraging commercial opportunities outside the state sector by using . . . independent Cuban entrepreneurs’ access to the Internet, cloud technology, programming interfaces, e-commerce platforms, and a number of other measures, including access to microfinance and training.”
- The U.S. “will ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses. . . . [That includes] removing the limit on family remittances of $1,000 per quarter per sender/receiver pair. And we’ll authorize donative remittances, which will support Cuban families and independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”
In addition, the new policy will “continue to elevate the matter of human rights, the treatment of political prisoners, and . . . elevate the issue of labor rights in Cuba, [which more generally is “a core priority for the Biden-Harris administration.”
The authorization of group travel to Cuba will be limited to purposeful purposes, not tourism.
More generally the new policy is intended “to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering that prompts out-migration from Cuba and also to advance our interest in supporting the Cuban people and ensuring that Cuban Americans and Americans in general are also the best advanced ambassadors for U.S. policy.”
The U.S. will be increasing the staff at the Havana Embassy “with an appropriate security posture.”
There was no mention at this briefing of two very significant U.S. policies regarding Cuba: the U.S. embargo of the island and the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Therefore, both of them remain in effect with continued major impacts on the island and will be discussed below.
Reactions to the “New” U.S. Cuba Policy
New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American and now the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the maintenance of the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List and the restart of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program. But he was “dismayed” at its restarting group travel to the island because it will not breed democracy on the island and merely help the Cuban government fund its “continued repression.”
The harshest critic of the “new” policy was Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor and involved in that administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Said Rhodes, “Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how I feel about the Biden-Cuba policy. Granted it was Trump” who initially reversed Obama’s policies, but “then Biden doubles down” on Trump’s policies. We had Trump—in the most grotesque, callous way—politicizing this. But then Biden doubles down. It’s a gaslighting to those people in Cuba ” (deliberately and systematically feeding false information that leads recipients to question what they know to be true). (Emphasis added).
Scott Hamilton, who served as U.S. charge d’ affaires in Havana during Obama’s opening to Cuba, said Biden’s measures do not reorient relations, but “are more about addressing the need to get the numbers [of Cuban [emigrants] down on migration.”
It also should be noted that Biden left Trump’s sanctions in place as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the island’s medical system and strangled tourism, a crucial source of cash and goods for families. Allowing U.S. flights only to Havana ignores the difficulties of obtaining and paying for land transportation to other parts of the island, and most hotels are off-limits under U.S. regulations. Biden’s relaxing limits on remittances to families on the island is a good idea, but it does not cope with the difficulties of U.S. blacklisting of the financial institution for electronic fund transfers, Fincimex, due to its ties to the Cuban military. A leading U.S. expert on Cuba, William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, said, “What’s striking about these[Biden] measures is, there’s nothing about reopening the diplomatic dialogues that were ongoing at the end of the Obama administration.”
As a member of a church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian) that since 2001 has had a partnership with a Presbyterian church in Matanzas, Cuba and members who actively provide and maintain clean-water systems on the island,I welcome the new Policy’s encouraging “faith-based organizations to provide humanitarian support.” I, therefore, reject Senator Menendez’s criticism of encouraging group travel to the island.
The Biden administration is hoping that these new measures will reduce Cuba’s soaring out-migration. Apprehensions of Cubans on the U.S.-Mexico border have rocketed to more than 113,000 in the first seven months of this fiscal year, nearly three times as many as in all of fiscal 2021. These emigrants include some activists who were protesting in the streets last year, teachers, farmers and parents of young children who decided they would be better off leaving as the island’s economy continued to tank, the Cuban government having not enacted significant reforms and Nicaragua lifted its visa requirement, making travel there easier. This exodus is sapping Cuba of much of its youth while its population is aging and declining.
Now these economic problems have been exacerbated by the following two recent events:
- In August 2022 oil storage tanks near the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island were destroyed by a lightning strike. That destruction resulted in a heavy human toll and a serious blow to fuel for Cuba’s electric power generating system, which already had been tottering from lack of maintenance and investment. The U.S., however has not offered any help in responding to this emergency other than telephonic technical assistance.
- More recently, on September 26, Hurricane Ian, a Category 3 storm, slammed into the western end of the island. The next morning videos showed residents walking through waist-deep water as waves continued to crash on shore. Power lines, trees and siding could be seen littered along the roads. Electric power throughout the island was damaged.
U.S. Embargo of Cuba
On October 19, 1960, almost two years after the Cuban Revolution had taken over the island’s government, the Eisenhower administration launched the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba that prohibited all U.S. sales of goods and services to Cuba except food and medicine. That embargo continues in effect today, nearly 62 years later, with amplification by many U.S. statutes.
Cuba claims that to date it has suffered significant economic damages from the embargo and the U.N. General Assembly every year since 1992 (except 2020 due to the Covid pandemic) has adopted resolutions, by overwhelming margins, condemning the embargo as a violation of international law.
The last session to approve such a resolution happened on June 23, 2021, when the vote was 184 to 2 (the U.S. and Israel in opposition) with three abstentions (Colombia, Ukraine and Brazil). Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the Assembly that the embargo was a “massive, flagrant and unacceptable violation of the human rights of the Cuban people” and “an economic war of extraterritorial scope against a small country already affected in the recent period by the economic crisis derived from the pandemic” with estimated 2020 losses alone to be $9.1 million.
The U.S. opposition at the last session was offered by Rodney Hunter, the Political Coordinator for the U.S Mission, who said sanctions are “one set of tools in the U.S. broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise fundamental freedoms.” Moreover, despite the blockade, the US recognizes “the challenges of the Cuban people” and therefore, the US was “a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. Every year we authorize billions of dollars’ worth of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, other goods, and other items to support the Cuban people. Advancing democracy and human rights remain at the core of our policy efforts.”
The current session of the General Assembly on November 2, 2022, will consider this year’s report by the U.N. Secretary-General, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The U.N. website for this report had a list of countries that had submitted comments (presumably supportive of the resolution), but did not include any comments from the U.S. or Israel, both of whom voted against the resolution in 2021, or from the three countries that abstained last year (Brazil, Colombia and Ukraine).
Therefore, it is fair to assume that the resolution against the U.S. embargo will again by overwhelmingly approved on November 2. Moreover, this blog continues to support abolishing the embargo.
U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”
Since 1982 the United States has had different opinions as to whether Cuba was a “state sponsor of terrorism” under three U.S. statutes—the Export Administration Act (section 6(j)), the Arms Export Control Act (section 40) and the Foreign Assistance Act (Section 620A)—that authorize the Secretary of State to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “state sponsors of terrorism” and thereby impose sanctions on such countries, including restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, bans on U.S. defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual use items and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.
We will look at these different positions, including the Biden Administration’s current review of the Trump Administration’s last minute designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor.”
Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” 1982-2014. From 1982 through 2014, the U.S. designated Cuba as such a Sponsor.
U.S. Rescinds Cuba’s “Sponsor” Designation, 2015.  On April 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that President Obama rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that the prior week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”
Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
The same day (April 14, 2015), a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.” That presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”
This White House press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation. More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”
President Obama’s simultaneous message to Congress certified that “(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”
U.S. Non-Designation of Cuba, 2016-2020. From 2016 through the end of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. continued to not so designate Cuba as the U.S. and Cuba held several bilateral diplomatic meetings to discuss the many issues that had accumulated ever since the January 1, 1959, takeover of the Cuban government by the Cuban Revolution.
At their May 2016 Law Enforcement Dialogue, the U.S. State Department said that “law enforcement is an area of mutual interest to both the U.S. and Cuba as we advance toward normalized relations. We anticipate that the dialogue will be productive, and an additional opportunity to reinforce the benefits of law enforcement cooperation. During the dialogue, the United States and Cuba will continue to discuss a wide range of areas of cooperation, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, transnational crime, cybercrime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.”
The framework for the dialogue was the May 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban Ministry of Interior. This MOU set the basis of cooperation in exchanging risk information for travelers, cargo or conveyances in international transit; the continuation of periodic, mutual, and reciprocal assessments regarding air, sea, and port security; and the coordination of transportation security, screening of cargo, travelers and baggage, and the design of secure, efficient inspection facilities at ports and airports, among other things.
The next month, June 2016, the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The State Department said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.” Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”
During the last weeks of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. and Cuba signed the following four agreements:
- Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”
- Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue by enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in assisting persons in distress and to act in furtherance of obligations under international law.
- U.S., Cuba and Mexico signed a treaty to set territorial limits in contested Gulf of Mexico waters. The treaty covers the Eastern Gap of the Gulf of Mexico, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three countries’ overlapping claims in the Eastern Gap had created what is known as a “Doughnut Hole.” Trilateral discussions begun in mid-2016 on the maritime territorial issue were concluded by the end of the year.
- U.S. and Cuba memorandum of understanding to help prevent the introduction and spread of quarantine pests, animal and plant disease agents through the exchange of scientific information, best practices for the prevention and control of plagues and emerging diseases, collaborative scientific projects, including the use of technology, research and surveillance, and the holding of events on specific aspects of animal and plant health.
In addition, the Trump Administration for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 did not designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
U.S. Re-Designation of Cuba as “Sponsor,2021-22. On January 11, 2021 (with only nine days left of the Trump Administration), U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Cuba was being re-designated as a “State Sponsor” to join Iran, North Korea and Syria. Here is what his statement said:
- “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”
- “The Trump Administration has been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”
- “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”
- “For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine. Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, traveled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017. Citing peace negotiation protocols, Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.”
- “Cuba also harbors several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on or convicted of charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades. For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List for executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973; Ishmael LaBeet, convicted of killing eight people in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972; Charles Lee Hill, charged with killing New Mexico state policeman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971; and others.”
- “Cuba returns to the SST list following its broken commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal by the previous administration in 2015. On May 13, 2020, the State Department notified Congress that it had certified Cuba under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019.”
- “In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for today’s action, the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region. The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate. The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”
- “Today’s designation subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba, restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes certain controls on exports of dual use items.”
- “The United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their desire for a democratic government and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion, expression, and association. Until these rights and freedoms are respected, we will continue to hold the regime accountable.”
So far in 2022, the U.S. has not taken any further action regarding this designation. However, at a July 21, 2022, press conference a journalist asked, “Is the administration’s position that Cuba still meets the legal requirements to be a state sponsor of terrorism?” The only response to that question came from Ned Price, the Department’s spokesman, who said, “The fact pattern that led a previous administration to [so] designate Cuba . . . is in the public record.”
One year after the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, the United States recognizes the determination and courage of the Cuban people as they continue to fight for respect for human rights and persevere through repression during a historic year. We celebrate the Cuban people and commend their indomitable determination.
This blogger strongly favors a return to the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of relations with Cuba as well as its rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and its support for abolishing the U.S. embargo. These opinions are further supported by the recent explosion of Cuba’s oil storage tanks and its being hit by Hurricane Ira as well as recognizing that Cuba is a much smaller country than the U.S. with much more limited military and security forces.
Comments from readers to correct or supplement any of the discussion or citations to the record of these complex issues would be appreciated.
 White House, Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials On New Cuba Policy (May 16, 2022).
 Sheridan & Chaoul, As Biden eases Trump’s sanctions, Cubans hope for an economic life, Wash. Post (June 2, 2022); Armario, Last year, Cubans took to the streets. Now they’re fleeing the island, Wash. Post (July 11, 2022); Isikoff, Former top Obama aide accuses Biden of ‘gaslighting’ Cuba: ‘Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface,’ Yahoo News (Sept. 14, 2022); Matanzas oil storage facility explosion, Wikipedia (Aug. 5, 2022); 17 missing, dozens hurt as fire rages in Cuban oil tank farm, MPRNews (Aug. 6, 2022); Fire at Cuban oil storage facility further exacerbated electricity shortages, wsws.org (Aug. 12, 2022); Cuba’s oil fire is contained—but the disaster has sparked U.S.-Cuba diplomatic flames, wusf news (Aug. 12, 2022); Finch, Residents in Cuba wake-up to waist-deep water after Ian makes landfall, Accuweather.com (Sept. 7, 2022); Last Minute, Hurricane Ian: the center leaves Cuban soil, but continues to hit with intense winds, rains and strong swells, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 27, 2022); Byrne, Latest AccuWeather Eye Path forecast takes Ian’s landfall south of Tampa, Acuweather (Sept. 27, 2022); Live: the passage of Hurricane Ian through Cuba, Granma.com (Sept. 27, 2022); Cuba Foreign Ministry, The economic blockade against Cuba must end, (Sept. 7, 2022).
 United States embargo against Cuba, Wikipedia; UN General Assembly calls for US to end Cuba embargo for 29th consecutive year, UN News (June 23, 2021); U.N., Schedule of General Assembly Plenary and Related Meetings (Sept. 27, 2022). See also posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba (as of 5/4/20].
 See posts listed in “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries: Topical—Cuba [as of 5/4/20].
 See President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (April 15, 2015).
 Crowley, Augustin & Semple, Pompeo Returns Cuba to Terrorism Sponsor List, Constraining Biden’s Plans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 11, 2021 & updated 2/15/21).
3 thoughts on “Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy””
Excellent, informative update. Thanks