Workers gather at Nel Paradiso, a private restaurant in Havana, on January 25, 2023

Havana (AFP) - Hundreds of Cuban tradespeople and independent owners of small businesses on Thursday sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to follow through with promised US assistance to the island’s struggling private sector.

“It is incomprehensible and inhuman that in the middle of a domestic economic crisis (your administration) has, for the most part, continued with Trump-era cruel and failed policies that directly target our livelihoods,” the letter says.

Those signing the text belong to the Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect (ACERE), a group that advocates for interests of private business and for the end of the six-decade-old US embargo of the communist-ruled nation.

“We are independent of the Cuban government,” says the letter, seen by AFP journalists.

It was signed by nearly 300 people who said they represent small firms or are tradespeople in agroindustry, construction, tourism, transportation, food and other sectors.

In May 2022, Biden pledged to “increase support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs” and help the private sector grow.

The letter says Biden has not followed through, and existing US policy toward Cuba hinders the development of private business.

The letter asks the White House to reestablish in Havana the issuance of non-immigrant visas to permit Cuban business and tradespeople to travel and acquire the supplies they require for their businesses.

It also asks for Cuban access to payment platforms like PayPal, the right to set up US bank accounts, the resumption of cruise ships to Cuban ports and the reopening of US tourist travel to Cuba.

The letter rejects the US embargo, established in 1962, which the former Trump administration tightened with 243 more sanctions during the Trump administration and which Biden has modified very little.

After six decades of near-total state control of the economy, the nascent Cuban private sector has grown since new rules were approved in 2021 regarding self-employment.

The island now has 550,000 self-employed workers, 7,500 small businesses and 5,000 cooperatives employing 35 percent of the economically active population, the letter says.