Three US Senators Ask Biden To End the Embargo and To Help the Cuban Private Sector

US Senator Ron Wyden and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, at their meeting in Havana last December. (Minrex)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 March 17, 2023 — The letter sent on Wednesday to US President Joe Biden by three senators, calling for the end of the embargo on Cuba and more aid for the private sector of the Island, was answered the next day by the US-Cuba Commercial and Economic Council (Cubatrade), with several clarifications.

“The US embargo against Cuba has failed,” categorically affirmed the letter signed by Democrats Ron Wyden (Oregon), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Republican Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyoming). The legislators believe that the measure, in force for 60 years, “has not facilitated regime change nor promoted any notable improvement in human rights, democracy or economic freedom in Cuba.”

On the contrary, they say, “it has limited the capacity” of the United States Government to defend its interests in Cuba, has stifled opportunities for American companies, farmers and ranchers and has harmed “both Americans and Cubans” on the Island. In addition, they consider it to be an easy “scapegoat” for the failures of the Cuban government.

Faced with this, they propose a series of measures, in addition to the lifting of the embargo, among which are supporting small Cuban private companies by providing “specific access” to US financial services, increasing trade in food and agricultural products between both countries and supporting access to information and “person-to-person” contact in Cuba.

While the senators claim to have “serious concerns about the Cuban Government’s repression of peaceful actions in favor of democracy” and to support the Biden Administration’s efforts “to hold the Cuban Government accountable for violations of human rights, civil rights and workers’ rights, including forced labor,” they insist that “unilateral sanctions have not caused democratic change.”

This Thursday, Cubatrade responded in a statement to several of the points in the letter, emphasizing that much of the regulatory changes in the trade relationship with Cuba depend on Havana’s decision. Thus, he suggests that they also send a letter to the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

For example, to the request of legislators that the United States make “specific efforts” for Cuban small private entrepreneurs to access US financial services, they state that in May 2022, the Biden and Harris Administration already authorized the first direct investment and direct financing to a private company in Cuba  owned by a Cuban. “Unfortunately, the Government of the Republic of Cuba has been two years — and counting — without specifically authorizing or publishing regulations for the delivery of direct investment and direct financing to private companies in the Republic of Cuba owned by a national of the Republic of Cuba.”

On the other hand, to the senators’ claim to establish a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to allow US banks to provide financial services to small Cuban companies in the private sector, the Council concedes that they are right to ask for “efficient banking” for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and regrets that the Biden government continues to refuse to authorize correspondent banking*.

Incredibly, the Obama-Biden Administration (2009-2017) has authorized financial institutions based in the United States to have correspondent accounts in financial institutions located in the Republic of Cuba, but it did not authorize financial institutions based in the Republic of Cuba to have correspondent accounts with financial institutions located in the United States,” explains the organization, led by businessman John Kavulich.

It would be useful, the statement continues, for the three senators to advocate before the Government of the Republic of Cuba on the lack of regulations on investment and financing, because “to be issued” they must address the elements referred to in the letter to President Biden, which would be an incentive for him to authorize direct correspondent banking.

Another of the points made by Cubatrade is that part of what they are looking for, such as promoting the use of funds provided for in the programs authorized by the Agricultural Law of 2018 for US farmers and ranchers who want to export to the Cuban market, is not the responsibility of the US Department of Agriculture, but of those who requested it and haven’t used it.

It’s not the first time that Ron Wyden has made moves to bring the United States closer to the Cuban regime. Last December, the senator visited Havana, where he held a meeting with Díaz-Canel.

Two days later, he also met with opponents Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello and Julio Ferrer Tamayo. Roque, who recalled that the senator from Oregon is “one of the people who wants rapprochement with the dictatorship.” She said that the topic of conversation on that occasion was the political prisoners and that she had the confidence that the senator “will not leave out this issue and will bring it up in the different committees of the Senate in which he is going to participate.”

Wyden is also the president of the Senate Finance Committee, and in February 2021 he presented the United States-Cuba Trade Act to repeal sanctions against the Government of the Island and to try to normalize relations between the two administrations.

*Translator’s note: A correspondent bank is a financial institution that offers services to another financial institution, usually in a different nation. 

Translated by Regina Anavy


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