The recent announcement of modest changes to the hardline “maximum pressure” campaign to pressure Cuba and Venezuela under Donald Trump have many analysts wondering if the Biden administration has given up on Florida, accepting that it is now a Republican state.
“In case you had any doubts that Florida is no longer a priority state for Democrats,” Miami-based pollster and Democrat campaign strategist, Fernand Amandi, wrote on Twitter after the Cuba and Venezuela policy news broke.
After months of silence on Cuba and Venezuela, the White House this month, in quickfire succession, issued some modest reversals of the hardline “maximum pressure” campaign under Donald Trump. But the measures were met with a barrage of protests from Republicans and received only lukewarm praise from some Democrats, threatening to further undermine Democrats in vote-rich South Florida, where Cuba and Venezuela politics plays an over-sized role in elections.
“Everyone is critical of his policy toward Venezuela and no one is in favor of what he is doing,” said Ramon Muchacho, an exiled former Venezuelan mayor who now works as a political and financial analyst in Miami. “He is managing to alienate all those who are in favor of an opening toward Venezuela and those who are against an opening. He has totally alienated all sectors,” he added.
In both cases, Cuba and Venezuela, there were elements of the policy changes that some could agree on, but these were canceled out by the inclusion of other changes that found little support in South Florida and left some scratching their heads for an explanation. Administration officials deny it had anything to do with an upcoming summit of heads of state from Latin America and the Caribbean in Los Angeles next week.
Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has threatened to boycott the summit if Cuba and Venezuela are not invited. But the Biden administration is loath to host any leader who was not democratically elected.
The pros and cons of Biden’s Cuba and Venezuela policies
Regarding Cuba, Biden’s advisers announced that the White House was beefing up the U.S. embassy’s consular section in Havana to be able to process more visas for Cubans to be reunited with close relatives in the U.S. More flights would be allowed to different parts of the island to make it easier for families in the U.S. to visit their relatives.
The advisers went on to say that the Biden administration would also raise the family remittance cap of $1,000 per quarter and allow non-family remittances to entrepreneurs to stimulate the islands’ small, highly regulated private sector businesses, as well as allowing the return of group travel for Americans to Cuba, as long as it was educational and not too touristy.
As for Venezuela, the administration signaled some easing of sanctions on the oil sector to allow the U.S. company Chevron to keep operating there, as long as president Nicolas Maduro agreed to talks with the opposition. Among the concessions to Caracas was the removal from the list of sanctioned Venezuelans of Carlos Erik Malpica-Flores, a former high-ranking PDVSA official and nephew of Venezuela’s first lady.
Separation of families and lack of visas in Cuba trigger new migration crisis
“Cuba policy is best conducted with a scalpel, not a machete,” said Manny Diaz, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, in a statement.
Diaz put his focus on the family reunification issue, highlighting how many families were separated by the past administration’s draconian policy of virtually canceling immigration agreements and eliminating the ability to obtain visas in Cuba.
“The separation of Cuban families has been the most tragic result of the Cuban dictatorship and this step will help ease the burden for thousands of Cubans,” he added. The new policy would also reduce the illegal migration of Cubans who take to unseaworthy rafts to cross the Straits of Florida, or undertake the almost equally dangerous crossing through Central America and Mexico “that can lead to countless tragedies.”
But remittances and group travel are viewed by many in the exile community as a gift to the Cuban regime. Group travel is also seen by many as a perk for wealthy well-intentioned