US prepares measures to help Cuban small businesses -source

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is preparing to unveil new regulatory measures to allow more U.S. financial support for small private businesses in Cuba, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The move, expected as soon as this week, is seen as a long-promised but limited step to ease restrictions to help Cuba’s budding entrepreneurs cope with fallout from the Communist-ruled island’s crippled economy.

The announcement is aimed at making it easier for Americans to directly assist Cuban small business owners by providing guidelines for loans to them through the U.S. financial system, the source said.

The new measures could be rolled out while Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel is visiting New York for the United Nations General Assembly beginning on Tuesday.

There is no sign, however, that this move could be part of a more dramatic easing of U.S. sanctions and other restrictions on Cuba, beyond the modest steps that Biden has already taken since coming to office January 2021.

“We believe the private sector is Cuba’s best hope for generating economic development and employment to improve the standards of living for the Cuban people and reduce the current high-levels of migration,” a State Department official said.

The official insisted that any U.S. steps to aid the Cuban people would be carried out “restricting to the furthest extent possible any benefit to the Cuban military.”

The Cuban embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While in New York, Diaz-Canel is expected to press Havana’s case for the U.S. to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Biden administration has been reviewing the designation, imposed by then-President Donald Trump at the end of his term, since taking office.

Privately incorporated enterprise re-emerged in Cuba just two years ago after being effectively banned for decades. But foreign financing has been largely blocked by Washington’s Cold War-era economic embargo on the island.

The new measures could help facilitate a flow of U.S. loans.

Biden last year partially rolled back some Trump-era restrictions on Cuba but has maintained others, insisting Havana must improve its human rights record after a crackdown on protests in 2021.

Trump had sharply reversed a U.S. rapprochement with Cuba initiated by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, additional reporting by Dave Sherwood in Havana; Editing by Sandra Maler)