Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. they are calling on President Biden to ease restrictions on Cuba that affect the island’s private sector.

In a letter sent Wednesday, lawmakers urged the president to boost economic exchange between U.S. and Cuban businessmen by adopting «specific risk-based efforts, including limited changes to U.S. licensing and regulations.»

The goal is to promote the growth of Cuba’s small and medium-sized private businesses, give them greater access to US financial services, and increase US exports to the island.

Reducing trade and travel restrictions «would increase demand for American staples and make it easier for American exporters to reach the Cuban market, benefiting American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses that make up the thriving American export sector,» they said at the meeting. letter. , first obtained by NBC News.

The senators also said more trade and investment would provide a «balance» to China, «which has shown increasing interest in the island nation’s finances.»

The letter included recommendations such as allowing transactions between US financial institutions and Cuban banks that are determined to be «managed by civilians»; encourage the government of Cuba to end the requirement that all US imports go through government channels; and publish specific regulations or guidelines to support Internet access in Cuba.

Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel during a trip to the island in December, after which he called on the Biden administration to normalize trade relations with Cuba and strengthen support for small and medium enterprises. business I had previously filed an invoice end the embargo and establish new trade relations.

A small delegation of US lawmakers also traveled to Havana in November and met with senior Cuban government officials.

The letter sent Wednesday began by criticizing the US embargo on Cuba, saying that it «has not facilitated regime change, nor promoted any notable improvement in human rights, democracy or economic freedom in Cuba» and has taken away opportunities for American businesses and farmers. this month, another bipartisan group of senators also introduced a bill to end the embargo.

«To be clear, we continue to have serious concerns about the Cuban government’s repression of peaceful advocacy for democracy,» the letter said. «We strongly support your Administration’s efforts to hold the Cuban government accountable for violations of human rights, civil rights, and workers’ rights, including forced labor.»

But the US embargo can only be lifted by Congress, and lawmakers on both sides have long resisted the idea, including Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, and Bob Menendez, DN.J., who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

In 2021, communist Cuba lifted the ban on private companies that had been in place since the late 1960s, when the government nationalized all businesses and outlawed private ownership. The regulations currently in force grant greater legal certainty to small and medium-sized companies: Companies with more than three workers can be incorporated as «limited liability» companies, but they still have limitations as to the number of workers they can hire and the fields in which they work. who work can operate on

Areas like education, healthcare, defense and waste management are off limits. The Cuban Ministry of Economy has given the green light to 7,225 companies so far.

Most of Cuba’s socialist-style economy was run by the government until the 1990s, when Fidel Castro allowed small businesses in a very limited number of areas to operate under strict regulations.

Allowing companies is part of the economic reforms under the leadership of President Miguel Díaz-Canel in an attempt to improve conditions on the island.

Cuba’s economy, stagnant for decades, has been battered by the Covid pandemic, high inflation and the decades-long US embargo. The situation has led to shortages of food, medicine, fuel and sometimes power across the island.

Historic island-wide protests erupted in July 2021, leading to a heavy crackdown. In fiscal year 2022, a record number of people fled Cuba, with more than 220,000 reaching the US-Mexico border.

The senators’ letter noted that supporting the private sector could reduce the number of Cubans seeking to migrate to the US «due to a lack of hope for a better future.»

Engagement between the US and Cuba, including talks on immigration and law enforcement issues, has increased since late 2022. There has also been an increase in the amount of cultural exchanges at the US embassy along with with the Cuban government.

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