Biden Expresses Support for Cuban People Amid Rare Protests

Amid the largest anti-government protests in decades in Cuba, U.S. President Joe Biden is expressing support for the people of the Caribbean island nation, underscoring their right to peaceful protest.  “The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this protest in a long, long time if, quite frankly ever,” Biden said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights and we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba.” U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the White House in Washington, July 12, 2021.Biden made his remarks at the start of a meeting with local leaders about gun violence.  The White House is also rejecting Cuba’s claim the United States it is to blame for the public unrest.  “There’s every indication that yesterday’s protests were spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement and repression,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during Monday’s briefing. “And these are protests inspired by the harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba, not people in another country.” Her comment came shortly after Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla accused U.S.-paid mercenaries of fomenting unrest.”Yesterday in Cuba there was no social uprising, yesterday in Cuba there was disorder, disturbances caused by a communicational operation that had been prepared for some time and to which millions had been dedicated,” said the foreign minister.  Earlier in the day, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, in a nationally broadcast address alongside his Cabinet, said the social unrest there was the result of “a policy of economic suppression” by the United States.  A police line is seen blocking a road leading to the National Capitol Building, in Havana, Cuba, July 12, 2021.Demonstrators threw stones at police and at foreign currency shops, stole items and overturned cars, engaging in “totally vulgar, indecent and delinquent behavior,” according to Diaz-Canel. The Cuban president is calling for the country’s “revolutionary” citizens to counter the anti-government protest.  “We are prepared to do anything,” he said. “We will be battling in the streets.” Protesters on Sunday chanted slogans calling for freedom, liberty and unity as they marched in the capital, Havana, until police eventually broke up the march while making some arrests.  Demonstrators turned out in other parts of the country, including in San Antonio de los Banos, near Havana, voicing their anger about long lines for food, cuts in electricity, and trouble with the supply of medicine amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Cuban health officials on Sunday reported 6,923 new COVID-19 infections and 47 deaths.  Cuba has been under communist rule since 1959 when Fidel Castro’s popular revolution compelled dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee the island.  “This regime has brutalized and denied freedom to generations of Cubans, forcing many including my family to flee or be murdered, and over the coming days will widen its violence to try to suppress the brave protesters in the streets,” said Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Another prominent Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Twitter: “President Biden: freedom in Cuba needs you now. Don’t be AWOL.” AWOL stands for Absent Without Leave.  President Biden, freedom in #Cuba needs you now! Don’t be AWOL.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 12, 2021Asked by a reporter on Monday whether the weekend’s events compel the Biden administration to prioritize a review of its Cuba policy, Psaki responded that the White House “is monitoring closely” events in the country, and “we will be closely engaged, we will be looking to provide support for the people of Cuba.”  The United States proclaimed an embargo on trade with Cuba in 1962. The embargo relaxed somewhat in the year 2000, when Congress passed a law allowing American businesses to sell food and “humanitarian goods” including medicine to Cuba. In January of this year, outgoing President Donald Trump hit Cuba with new sanctions in the final days of his administration, redesignating the country as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Asked by a reporter on Monday whether he would consider a change to the embargo policy, Biden replied he would have more to say on Cuba later in the week, “so stay tuned.”  Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, AFP and Reuters.  

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