A little over a week after the protests in several provinces of Cuba, the United States is giving the first signs of the impact of the mobilizations on foreign policy and bilateral relations between countries. The Americans plan to increase their embassy contingent on the island and revise the remittance policy.
The announcement was made on Tuesday (20) by State Department spokesman Ned Prince at a press conference. “We are reviewing plans to increase the staff at our embassy in Havana to facilitate consular activities,” he said.
On remittances, he said a working group will identify “the most effective ways to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people.” The measure, Prince argued, was intended to “support Cubans in their legitimate democratic aspirations.”
When they took to the streets on July 11, in what is already considered the biggest acts in at least two decades, the Cubans waved different flags. They called for more effective policies to tackle food and medicine shortages, but also for more freedom of expression and political action. Throughout 2020, the island’s GDP declined by 11%, largely due to the deadlock in the tourism sector of the Cuban economy, with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The regime’s leadership played down the protests, saying those who took to the streets had “counterrevolutionary” aspirations and were influenced by the United States. In various speeches, the Cuban authorities have attributed to the economic blockade – or embargo, or sanction – that the Americans impose on the island the engine of popular discontent.
One of the prohibitions of the blockade, which spanned more than 60 years, was the transfer of money from Cuban Americans living in the United States to Cuba. Barack Obama, while at the head of the White House, partly relaxed the sanctions. In 2011, for example, he facilitated the sending of money to the island, in one of the measures that established a historic diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries. The government of his successor, Republican Donald Trump, has stepped up measures and reversed the rapprochement.
Joe Biden’s government has been more moderate in its plans for Cuba. During the election race, the Democrat pledged to reverse some of the blockade measures. He even said that he considered them harmful to the people and that they did nothing to promote democracy and human rights, but he did not put anything into practice.
On Thursday (15), a few days after the protests on the island, he attacked the island’s regime, which he called a “failure”, and said he was evaluating possible aid to the Cuban people. However, he felt that “different circumstances and safeguards” would be needed to put them into practice.
Signs of a possible easing of sanctions and a strengthening of the embassy follow the narrative with which the Americans have historically justified the blockade. In the 1990s, two laws – known as Torricelli and Helms Burton – tightened the embargo and also tied its possible end to demand that Cuba democratize its political regime.