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Pressley, Warren Urge Biden to Reverse “Vindictive” Trump Sanctions Against Cuba

Biden promised to reverse Trump’s repression on Cuba on the campaign trail, but has failed to deliver.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill on September 29, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

A group of congressional Democrats from Massachusetts is urging the Biden administration to reverse a Donald Trump-era decision to place Cuba on the list of governments that support supposed terrorism.

In a letter sent to President Joe Biden last month and made public this week, the lawmakers spoke out against Cuba’s designation on the State Sponsor of Terrorism (SSOT) list, a move that Trump made just before he left office in 2021. They say that the designation was “vindictive” and is a major driver of current severe economic instability in Cuba, forcing a record number of people to flee the country in search of safe harbor.

“Given the information and evidence we have reviewed, Cuba should never have been placed again on the SSOT list. It was a vindictive action taken by the Trump Administration in January 2021 as it departed office, and the policy is well overdue for change,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe the time to act and remove Cuba from the SSOT list is now — not months from now.”

They then point out that the record number of Cuban people trying to enter the U.S. at the southern border — part of the supposed immigration “crisis” that conservative lawmakers have been fearmongering over — is caused in large part by U.S. policy devastating Cuba’s economy and putting its people in danger.

“There is no political or other policy argument that can justify the U.S. continuing to knowingly add to the suffering of the Cuban people. The unabated hardships facing all sectors of Cuban society are the driving force for tens of thousands abandoning their homes and migrating to the United States,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter effort was led by Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Jim McGovern, with signatures from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Representatives Seth Moulton, Lori Trahan, and Stephen Lynch, all Massachusetts Democrats.

Cuba’s placement on the SSOT list means that it is subject to a series of harsh sanctions — many of which the U.S. has been imposing on the country for decades — that are causing shortages of food, medicine, and other crucial needs. The Obama administration had lifted some restrictions on travel and economic exchange in 2015, but the Trump administration reversed these and went even further in imposing hundreds more sanctions which human rights advocates have decried for their harsh, often violent effects.

On the 2020 campaign trial, Biden had pledged to “promptly reverse the failed Trump policies” on Cuba. But not only has Biden largely failed to act on this promise, advocates say that he has actually taken Trump’s already repressive policies even further, acting even more aggressively on the economic blockade than Trump did.

“As a candidate for President, you promised to address re-engagement with Cuba and return to the policy begun during the Obama-Biden administration, and we supported you on this commitment,” the lawmakers wrote.

“From the poorest and most vulnerable to the struggling private sector to religious, humanitarian and cultural actors, the Cuban people are enduring the most dire deprivations in recent memory — everyone is suffering,” they continued. “While there are multiple reasons for the economic crisis in Cuba, without a doubt a significant contributing factor is the restrictions and penalties facing international financial institutions and other entities because Cuba is on the SSOT list.”

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