President Joe Biden on Monday told Cuba’s communist government not to resort to violence against street protests and said the United States stands with demonstrators.
"We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime," “We call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence,” Biden told reporters as government officials pushed back against the Cuban authorities’ claim that Washington is responsible for the unrest.
“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said in a separate statement.
“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Monday said US economic sanctions were the cause of the turmoil, calling it a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the allegation “a grievous mistake.”
“They are simply not hearing the voices and will of the Cuban people—people deeply, deeply, deeply tired of repression that has gone on for far too long,” Blinken said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said that the unrest was rooted in “spontaneous expressions of people exhausted with the Cuban government.”
The demonstrators are “inspired by the harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba, not people in another country,” she said.
On Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned Cuba against a crackdown on the protesters.
“The US supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights,” he tweeted.
Domestic political impact
The Biden administration—focused on domestic challenges including battling Covid-19 and passing infrastructure legislation, while also withdrawing from the 20-year war in Afghanistan—has largely ignored Cuba until now.
But the island has significant weight on US politics, with Cuban Americans a formidable presence in the important electoral state of Florida.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump—a Florida resident—quickly sought to make political capital by reminding supporters that Biden favored opening up US-Cuban relations when he was vice president under Barack Obama.
“Don’t forget that Biden and the Democrats campaigned on reversing my very tough stance on Cuba,” said Trump, who has refused to recognize his 2020 election loss and remains the leading Republican threat to Biden in 2024.
“I stand with the Cuban people 100 percent in their fight for freedom,” he said in a statement. “Joe Biden MUST stand up to the Communist regime or—history will remember.”
The strong Biden administration response on Monday followed an initially more cautious line on Sunday highlighting protesters’ complaints about the Cuban response to Covid-19, rather than political demands.
“The protests were just happening yesterday,” Psaki said, explaining the shift. “We’re still assessing what is motivating and of course driving all of the individuals who came to the streets.”