March 15,2023

Press Contact:

Keith Chu

Wyden, Lummis, Van Hollen Call on Biden to Support Cuba Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senator Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called on President Biden to foster development of small businesses and entrepreneurs in Cuba that offer an alternative to state-controlled industry, by easing U.S. financial restrictions targeting those players, in a letter sent today.

“Small, private sector Cuban entrepreneurs have been clamoring for access to capital that could help their businesses thrive, support private sector employment, and make it less likely Cubans seek to migrate to the United States due to lack of hope for a better future,” Wyden, Lummis, and Van Hollen wrote. “Rather than continue the failed policy of broad-based sanctions, your Administration should undertake efforts to increase economic exchange between the United States and the Cuban people.”

The senators made clear they continue to have concerns about the Cuban government’s repression of peaceful political advocacy, and support efforts to hold Cuba accountable for human rights violations. However, unilateral sanctions only strengthen the Cuban regime, they wrote. 

Rather than continuing blanket sanctions that harm regular Cubans, the senators called for a number of moderate reforms that would benefit small entrepreneurs and benefit U.S. farmers and exporters, including: 

Support Small, Private-Sector Cuban Businesses by Providing Targeted Access to U.S. Financial Services

  • Assess the extent to which the Cuban government controls banks in Cuba and explore a licensing framework allowing transactions between U.S. financial institutions and Cuban banks that have been determined to be civilian-managed;
  • Establish a targeted Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license to allow U.S. banks to provide financial services to small, private sector Cuban businesses, potentially through Cuban banks, with appropriate risk management controls to prevent the flow of funds to entities controlled by the Cuban government. The licensing regime should include both payments activity and microfinancing of the private sector in Cuba, including agricultural cooperatives;
  • Reinstate OFAC general licenses for U.S. financial institutions to process “U-turn” transactions— transactions between Cuban and non-U.S. persons that pass through the U.S. financial system;

Increase Trade in Food and Agricultural Products Between the U.S. and Cuba

  • Encourage the Cuban government to end its requirement that all imports from the United States be facilitated through a Cuba state entity. This requirement is not imposed on all of Cuba’s trading partners, creating a competitive disadvantage for U.S. farmers and ranchers relative to other exporting countries;
  • Foster further collaboration between the U.S. and Cuban agriculture sectors by improving and revitalizing existing Memoranda of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture;
  • Work with stakeholders to encourage the use of USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program funds, authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, to educate U.S. farmers and ranchers and facilitate the export of U.S. agricultural commodities to the Cuban market;

Support Access to Information and Person-to-Person Contact in Cuba

  • Publish specific regulations and/or guidance to support internet access in Cuba, which would facilitate access to e-commerce and the free flow of information and communication across Cuba and between the U.S. and Cuba;
  • Publish guidance to allow U.S.-based firms to provide cloud-based services, fee-based platforms, e-commerce services and digital banking in Cuba, with appropriate risk management controls;
  • Reinstate OFAC general licenses for individual person-to-person educational travel; and
  • Reinstate OFAC general licenses for participation in, or organization of, public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic or nonathletic competitions, and exhibitions in Cuba. 

The full letter is available here.