December 15th, 2020. Sources close to the Biden transition team have told Bloomberg that the newly-announced President-elect will look to return to an Obama-era Cuba policy, involving reduced sanctions and travel restrictions, a position he publicly announced back in March.
Perceived to hurt ordinary Cubans, the relief would include ending certain trade restrictions, investment, and remittances sent home by Cuban-Americans, but wouldn’t involve an ending of the embargo imposed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Specifically according to Al Jazeera, sanctions involving human-rights abuses would remain; the same stance Obama took when he attempted to move relations with Cuba forward again, a move that was championed by Biden.
This leaves a potential backdoor open, as Trump was able to return to a more Cold War-era policy rather quickly and without much effort.
Even though economic officials in the centrally-planned Caribbean economy said that foreign investment has managed to puncture the veil of embargo over the last year, to the tune of $2 billion, medical emergencies, such as COVID-19, are notoriously serious in Cuba where since the 1960s under deceased dictator Fidel Castro the pharmaceutical industry had to basically work without any international advisory or imports.
It’s unclear if there will be much time in the classic “First 100 days” to implement this Cuba policy, even though it would take very little, and most of it he could delegate upon his Treasury Secretary.
The key to Florida
Trump imposed additional sanctions on Cuba in the run up to the November elections. Trump carried Florida in 2020 and in 2016, winning the Cuban vote, which is majority Republican and enjoys seeing the regime in Havana receive a kick in the teeth every now and again.
As every president is wont to do, Biden, or his vice-president Harris, who has herself supported ending travel restrictions to Cuba in the Senate, may feel that bettering relations with Cuba, while simultaneously leaving them unresolved enough to potentially return to a more Trump-like policy, could give the edge in Florida during a 2024 race for either of them.
Bloomberg reports that the $43 million Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, increased in share value by 40% since the elections, signaling an excitement that Cuba is open for business again.
One potential hiccup for Biden’s Cuba policy is the united bipartisan policy towards Cuba’s close socialist ally in the region, Venezuela. Despite never displaying proof, the 2018 Venezuelan presidential elections were determined to be fraudulent by the U.S. State Department, even though normal international election observers reported no irregularities or obvious problems.
Existing black-listed economies like Cuba and Iran have been Venezuela’s only trading partner, since the crippling panoply of sanctions were imposed on the regime of Nicolas Maduro.
In order for Biden to protect the slim Democratic-majority in the house, a total reversal of the Cuba policy due to their alignment with Venezuela may be impossible, as Ben Bartenstein explains writing for Bloomberg.
“Any policies that are perceived as easing pressure on Cuba and Venezuela without getting significant concessions from their left-wing governments could risk backlash at the polls”.
John McAuliff, a volunteer/NGO leader and coordinator for normalizing relations with Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War, writing for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, noted in September that two major problems remained with restoring faith in the U.S.’s word, and that these seemingly small barriers of Venezuela and Florida could mean all the difference in the long run.
“A […] Biden administration has an opportunity to move the United States in the right direction, but real trust is impossible as long as the U.S. maintains a devastating unilateral embargo and refuses to restore the Guantanamo base to national sovereignty”.