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People participate in a rally against the U.S. embargo in Santa Clara, Cuba, April 25, 2021

People participate in a rally against the U.S. embargo in Santa Clara, Cuba, April 25, 2021. (Photo: Joaquin Hernandez/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Joaquin Hernadez via Getty Images)

Over 100 Congressional Democrats Call on Biden to Restore Engagement With Cuba

"Protecting human rights in Cuba, including the right to protest, is better served by principled engagement," lawmakers said to Biden in new letter.

Andrea Germanos

Over 100 members of Congress on Thursday urged President Joe Biden to step away from "failed policy" by taking a number of steps to reengage with Cuba and help curb a humanitarian crisis in country.

"We believe that a policy of engagement with Cuba serves U.S. interests and those of the Cuban people," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Biden.

Led by Reps. James P. McGovern (D-Mass), Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), the letter has been signed by 114 members of Congress, including progressive Democrats from New York Mondaire Jones, Jamaal Bowman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On the presidential campaign trail, Biden vowed to "reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans and their families." Biden was also vice president when President Barack Obama announced a move to normalize relations with Cuba in 2014.

However, as NBC News recently reported, "critics of Biden's Cuba policy say the administration has largely left former President Donald Trump's policy, that included a barrage of sanctions, intact and has been slow to implement changes." That policy prompted a letter earlier this year from 80 House Democrats similarly urging Biden to reverse a policy of hostility toward the island, including by ending the economic blockade.

In their new letter, the lawmakers called on the president to take "immediate humanitarian actions," including lifting restrictions on sending medical supplies and those on "banking and financial transactions related to humanitarian aid and suspend end-use verification."

"While the embargo allows for the shipment of humanitarian aid, in practice, licensing requirements, end-use verification, restrictions on the banking sector, and fear of unknowingly running afoul of U.S. law severely complicate sending humanitarian aid to Cuba, from other countries as well as from the United States," they wrote.

"Protecting human rights in Cuba, including the right to protest, is better served by principled engagement, rather than unilateral isolation, which has proven to be a failed policy."

Undoing the Trump administration's relisting of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism is another needed change, as is lifting restrictions on remittances—a lifeline for essential needs—the lawmakers said.

"Despite concerns over Cuba's government obtaining revenue from remittances, the government captures less revenue from remittances than in the past due to changes initiated in July 2020," the letters states. In addition, "much of the government's revenue from remittances is channeled to essential food, fuel, and goods imports for Cubans who do not have family abroad, many of them in marginalized communities."

Trump-era travel restrictions must also be lifted, the lawmakers wrote. Those restrictions threaten "mutually beneficial dialogue and exchange between the U.S. and Cuban people," while allowing travel would "increase the flow of necessary humanitarian supplies to the island and the amount and distribution of money and goods sent directly into the hands of Cubans."

"Protecting human rights in Cuba, including the right to protest, is better served by principled engagement," the letter states, "rather than unilateral isolation, which has proven to be a failed policy."

Angelica Salazar of anti-bockade group ACERE, the Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect, welcomed the letter.

"The Obama administration’s Cuba policy was wildly popular, not just among Americans at-large, but also within the Cuban-American community," she said. 

Salazar called the letter "an important development on the Hill" and expressed hope it would "spur President Biden to come through on his campaign pledge to normalize relations with Cuba."

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