President Joe Biden has directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba in the wake of protests on the island to determine ways for those residing in the US to send money to the country, a senior administration official told CNN.
“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” the official said.
The “Remittance Working Group” will work to “identify the most effective way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” the official said.
Biden had said last week he believed that under the current circumstances, remittances – the practice of Americans transferring money to their Cuban relatives – would end up in the hands of the regime. But since then he’s faced pressure to show solidarity with protesters.
Cuba’s government controls the financial sector on the island and all communications. Getting around the government to send money or improve internet access is a challenge other US administrations have tried and failed to overcome.
But the issue has taken on increased urgency in recent days alongside the largest protests on the island in decades. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the nation this month to protest chronic shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s handling of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, marking the most significant unrest in decades.
The State Department also is reviewing its plans to bolster staffing at the US Embassy in Havana “to facilitate diplomatic, consular and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture,” the official said.
The White House is exploring whether to sanction “Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression and human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Cuba,” the official said. The US will “intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners to support the aspirations of the Cuban people.”
Last week, Biden said he was looking into the potential for restoring internet access to Cuba. The official said Monday that the US would “work closely with the private sector and the US Congress to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people.”
Since Biden’s arrival in office, Cuba policies have remained in review.
Under the Obama administration, Cuba oversaw the reopening of embassies and relaxing of many restrictions long in place since the embargo. But the Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, reinstated travel restrictions and – before leaving office – named Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.