Editorial

Joe Biden has Everyone Waiting for his Cuba Policy

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American President Joe Biden has been extremely busy since taking office in January, and for the most part his efforts have been positively received. His work on overcoming the COVID crisis, tackling infrastructure and economic issues have been effective in establishing worthwhile national strategies. Biden’s focus reflects his desire to fulfill campaign promises.

However, one of the pledges that hasn’t garnered much attention—nor activity—concerns his Cuba policy. Pre-election he commented he would, “try to reverse the failed Trump policies. They inflicted harm on Cubans and their families” and have “done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

Cuba watchers were heartened by his intent to roll back Donald Trump’s hostility against the island and return to former president Barak Obama’s efforts to normalize relations that began in 2014. Trump reversed Obama’s outreach, instituting a series of hostile acts the last two years of his term, including allowing lawsuits in U.S, courts against international companies doing business in Cuba on supposed ‘confiscated’ lands, under the Helms Burton Act. Trump also ended American cruise line visits to Cuba, shut down U.S. business interests on the island, restricted remittances and just before leaving office re-listed Cuba on the states that sponsor terrorism. The last act particularly hypocritical as Cuba has been victim to hundreds of acts of terrorism since the 1960s by anti-revolutionary groups in Florida.

So Biden has plenty of options at his disposal to re-set the relationship with Cuba. A number of Trump’s restrictions could be reversed with only a stroke of his pen through executive orders. As of this date, the new president has yet to lift his hand. The reasons why are multi-fold.


The most mundane is priority. The new president simply does not consider Cuba worth much attention before taking care of more pressing national issues. And then there are the usual political realities to consider. A number in his administration have commented that Biden is not Obama regarding Cuban policy. Despite the fact Biden as vice-president supported Obama’s strategy, he should not be expected to be as completely committed to the normalization path as his predecessor was. As such, Biden may tie strict concessions from Havana as a condition to re-starting the process. Cuba in response has consistently reaffirmed its position that no negotiation of sovereignty will be considered. The other political component is the continuing influence of the Cuban-American congressmen, from both parties, who want Trump’s economic restrictions to remain. It is the continuation of the long-discredited position of making things so bad for the Cuban citizens they’ll overthrown their government. Leading the anti-Cuban side are Republican senators Marco Rubio (Florida) and Ted Cruz (Texas). They are, fortunately, becoming less influential in determining Cuba policy and Biden should be able to ignore them with little political consequence, despite the important role Florida still plays as a swing state in presidential elections.

The corporate media has for the most part supported the idea that Cuba should offer up considerable changes to their social/economic system as the price to pay for U.S. friendship.

An editorial in Bloomberg in the spring of 2021 made clear Cuban concessions are a prerequisite:

“Cuba shouldn’t expect the U.S. to lift more targeted sanctions, however, let alone the decades-old embargo—whose provisions are now codified into U.S. law—unless it begins to move, too. Among other things, that means addressing certified claims for property seized after the 1959 revolution, now estimated at nearly $9 billion with interest.

“Stubborn and suspicious as they may be, Cuba’s leaders should remember two things. First, all these measures are in their nation’s own best interests. Second, any thaw in relations will be temporary unless Biden can point to results. The Cuban regime made a big mistake in failing to build on Obama’s initiative, leading many in the U.S. to conclude that engagement was pointless. The next detente will fail unless it benefits Americans and Cubans alike.”

Bloomberg’s condescending instructions to the island’s leadership advances up the old canard of Cuba having to pay for nationalized properties, ignoring the reality that the revolutionary government has for 60 years been open to negotiations with the U.S., including talks held during the Obama opening. It is the U.S. that has refused to resolve the issue unless entirely under its terms. There is of course no mention of the billions of dollars the American embargo has cost Cuba.

While Biden has been inactive, some in Congress have taken up the issue, the latest coming May 19 when Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), and Republican Jerry Moran (Kansas) introduced legislation to lift travel and trade restrictions with the island. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act exemplifies the broad support that exists for pursuing a policy toward Cuba that benefits both countries.

The proposed legislation and others like it will be objected to by Cuban-American congressmen, making it difficult for it to succeed. The initiative for ending restrictions remains with Biden and there is still sufficient expectation that the new president will announce his Cuba policy in the next few months. Knowing exactly when that will happen will require a little more patience. And that’s something Cuba has had a great deal of experience with—waiting for its powerful northern neighbor to do the right thing.

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