After thousands demonstrated in cities and towns across Cuba on Sunday, President Joe Biden released a statement on Monday saying the U.S. stands with the Cuban people. The president called the protests a “clarion call for freedom and relief” while offering his support, but the president has not taken substantive actions to alleviate Cubans’ suffering.
“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’s statement said. “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
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The historic protests were prompted by nationwide food and vaccine shortages in the communist country. Demonstrators filled the streets chanting “freedom” and “yes, we can” while calling for an end to the nation’s decades-old dictatorship.
Calls for Biden to support the demonstrations began immediately after the protests began and came from both Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Florida Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings, who is running to unseat Rubio.
Cuba continues to deal with the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, as well as even stiffer sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. The sanctions, a bipartisan effort dating back to 1962, are aimed at destabilizing an authoritarian regime long led by Fidel Castro. The sanctions have been in place, in some form or another, for 60 years. They have failed in their stated goal of destabilizing the regime but succeeded in making life worse for the 11 million people who live under that regime.
In 2019, the Trump administration put in place measures that attempted to weaken the Cuban economy further, instituting a new cap on the amount of money that families in the U.S. can send their relatives in Cuba and undoing an Obama administration move that removed the cap. Cuban foreign ministry official Johana Tabalada told the AFP earlier this year that the 240 measures taken by the Trump administration against Cuba have cost the country $20 billion.
And, in his final week in office, Trump put Cuba back on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
But aside from Monday’s statement, the Biden administration has done little to reverse the long-standing embargo or the sanctions currently in place or Trump’s actions. Just last month, the U.S. opposed a United Nations resolution to condemn the six-decade embargo on Cuba — a move that, according to the New York Times, was seen as a litmus test of Biden’s willingness to reverse the actions from the previous administration. The Obama administration, when Biden served as vice president, chose to abstain from voting on the UN resolution instead of directly opposing it.
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