Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday criticized the Biden administration for reversing some restrictions on Cuba, saying the move hinders efforts by Cubans struggling for freedom.
During an appearance at the University of Miami Health System’s Don Soffer Clinical Research Center, DeSantis said the changes will “increase the amount of money that’s going to the dictatorship.”
“I think people, particularly down in South Florida, understand, the minute you’re sending more of this to the island, that’s going right into the pocket of the Cuban dictatorship, that is not going to help the people of Cuba realize freedom,” DeSantis said.
Changing restrictions imposed by former President Donald Trump, the Biden administration on Monday made a series of changes. That included approving flights to Cuban airports besides Havana; restarting a family reunification program; expanding a cap on family remittances, which had been set at $1,000 per quarter, and allowing them to go to non-family members; and taking steps to help Cuban entrepreneurs.
With Cuban politics and the communist regime always a key issue in South Florida politics, the Biden administration decisions don’t fully return to the U.S.-Cuba engagement efforts pushed by former President Barack Obama.
The Biden changes also don’t remove entities from a Cuba Restricted List by the U.S. State Department. That list bars Cuban government- and military-aligned companies from doing business with U.S. firms and citizens.
“With these actions, we aim to support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a prepared statement.
“We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures,” Price added.
Price said in a news release authorization for U.S. travelers would be to “engage with the Cuban people, attend meetings and conduct research.”
After Obama tried to increase engagement, Trump slashed the visa process, cut remittances and reimposed hurdles on trips to the island nation for people without family connections.
In a Twitter post, DeSantis pointed to any increase in travel to Cuba lining the pockets of Cuban leaders rather than the Cuban people.
“Biden’s plan to prop up the Cuban dictatorship represents yet another failure when it comes to standing for freedom in our hemisphere,” DeSantis tweeted Tuesday morning. “Money from ‘tourism’ will go into the pockets of the Cuban regime — and will help fortify the government against those seeking freedom in Cuba.”
This isn’t the first time DeSantis and Biden have differed on the approach to Cuba, which has been a thorn to U.S. administrations for more than six decades, as well as other Latin American countries such as Venezuela.
Last summer, DeSantis told young members of Cuba’s military to “live in the history books” by overthrowing communist leaders. He also pushed Biden to bring wi-fi access to people protesting on the island amid a deepening economic crisis.
The State Department statement said part of the new policy is an encouragement of the “growth of Cuba’s private sector by supporting greater access to U.S. Internet services, applications, and e-commerce platforms.”
“We will support new avenues for electronic payments and for U.S. business activities with independent Cuban entrepreneurs, including through increased access to microfinance and training,” Price said in the statement.
But the comments by DeSantis, who is widely mentioned as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, reflected the positions of other Republicans.
A group including U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a statement saying, “the White House is resurrecting President Obama’s failed policy of unilateral concessions to the Castro/Díaz-Canel criminal dictatorship.”
The Florida GOP lawmakers’ statement added that the policy change “undercuts America’s support for Cuba’s democratic opposition.”
Democrats, while more supportive, didn’t all go along with the change.
Congresswoman Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat running for U.S. Senate, issued a statement that said the U.S. “must maintain a strong economic embargo and make Cuba’s Communist regime pay for its human rights abuses.”
“I am encouraged by policies that will reunite families and raise the cap on family remittances, but allowing investments in the Cuban private sector and easing travel restrictions will only serve to fund the corrupt dictatorship,” Demings said.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor, said both sides need to work on solutions, as the “U.S. government cannot be in the business of separating families,” but at the same time “there are political prisoners that are sitting in Cuban prisons as we speak. We’ve got to be focusing on how to get them out.”