Biden Tries to Strike a Delicate Balance With New Cuba Policies

Biden Tries to Strike a Delicate Balance With New Cuba Policies
A woman holds up a sign that reads “Cubans with Biden” in Spanish while then-candidate Joe Biden gives a presidential campaign speech in Miramar, Fla., Oct. 13, 2020 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

If the Biden administration tried to draw a Venn diagram of the overlapping issues on its list of top priorities, it would end up pointing to Cuba. Viewed from Washington, the growing crisis in Cuba stands at the intersection of several key challenges for the U.S. and for President Joe Biden. That’s why last week’s announcement that the administration was unveiling a set of measures easing U.S. sanctions on Cuba looked like a delicate effort to thread a difficult political needle.

The changes, described in bureaucratic lingo as “regulatory amendments” that “update and clarify” existing policy, in fact represent a meaningful shift in U.S. policy. They amount to a loosening of restrictions and sanctions, something that always carries domestic political risk when it comes to Cuba, even more so when it happens just five months before a presidential election.

Biden found it necessary to take action, however, because economic conditions on the island are deteriorating rapidly, and a total collapse could spur a massive refugee flow to the United States. Even without that scenario, the pressure on the Cuban regime is leading it to draw closer to China and Russia. With few cards to play, Havana’s main asset is its proximity to the U.S., which makes the potential for it to offer its strategically located territory to U.S. rivals all the more concerning to Washington.

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