Biden’s Cuba policy is suddenly in the spotlight

“Cuba’s economic problems largely predate the pandemic, but the coronavirus sharpened them. It decimated Cuba’s tourism industry, a huge slice of the island’s economy. Trump-era sanctions — which the Biden administration has not rolled back — have added to the pressure. And the pandemic itself is taking a toll: Cuba is currently experiencing a record surge in cases and deaths.”

“Biden said the US supports Cuba’s “clarion call for freedom and relief.” Both Democrats and Republicans have backed the protests, but US lawmakers are split over how to approach the demonstrations and acute humanitarian crisis on the island.
Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to roll back Trump’s sanctions on Cuba, but he hasn’t acted. Now, the issue is urgent — both for those who want to see the sanctions gone and for those who feel Biden must keep them in place to continue pressuring the regime.

Biden’s best-laid plans on foreign policy didn’t include Cuba as a priority. But now a crisis in Cuba is here. What the US should do is always a complicated decision, but it’s clear Biden can’t just ignore Cuba.”

“After the protests, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed much of the unrest on the United States, claiming US-backed mercenaries caused the unrest. He called on supporters to also go to the streets and “defend the revolution.” About 100 people were arrested, according to human rights groups.”

“The specter of United States interference remains powerful in Cuba, given, well, a very long history of US intervention there. Fast-forwarding to the Cuban Revolution in 1959, communist revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator and began to pursue closer ties with the Soviet Union — an absolute no-no for the US during the Cold War.

The US tried to overthrow Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960s, but after that failure, the US strengthened an economic embargo that largely blocked Americans from doing business or trade with Cuba. There have been tweaks on the margins since, but the embargo has long outlasted the Cold War.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama began a historic diplomatic opening with Cuba, and as a result of the process, rolled back some economic restrictions tied to the Cold War-era US embargo and opened up travel.

Trump, as president, vowed to reverse those policies; he did throughout his time in office, significantly stepping up the pressure starting in 2019. He imposed renewed travel restrictions and other sanctions, including designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terror” in his final days in office. A key pillar of Trump’s sanctions severely limited remittances to the island, which cut off another economic spigot.

As experts said, Cuba’s problems are deeper than US sanctions alone, but the Trump-era policy, especially coming during the pandemic, is adding to the strain. And that is creating a dilemma for Washington.”

Will the Internet Destroy Cuba’s Communist Dictatorship?

“On Sunday, July 11, thousands of Cubans in dozens of cities around the island nation took to the streets to protest the country’s communist dictatorship and persistent shortages in food, energy, and medicine, all of which have been made worse by the pandemic.

The demonstrations have been enabled by social media and the internet, which only came to Cuba in a big way in late 2018, when President Miguel Diaz-Canel allowed citizens access to the internet on their cellphones.”

The Trade Embargo Allows Cuba’s Regime To Blame the U.S. for Communism’s Failings

“Despite being in place since 1962, the trade embargo has plainly failed to accomplish its primary goal of toppling Cuba’s regime. If anything, the policy has likely bolstered the regime by allowing the communist government to blame the U.S. for its own economic problems, as Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel did on Sunday. The trade embargo has contributed to the Cuban government’s impoverishing of millions of Cubans while limiting Americans’ economic freedom, too. That it remains in place nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union shows that America’s foreign policy towards Cuba has failed to learn the primary lesson of the end of the Cold War: Economic freedom is the best weapon to aim at communism.”

“Cuba’s government is authoritarian, but there should be no mincing of words about this. Communism is what broke Cuba. The authoritarianism on display is merely the natural evolution of communist regimes—a pattern of economic and political repression that has been tragically repeated in too many corners of the world during the past century.
Biden’s statement is right to conflate the lack of economic freedom with long-running political repression in Cuba. That’s exactly why America’s trade embargo is such a backward strategy, one that assumes economic and political freedom aren’t fundamentally linked.

Look at what happened when the Obama administration loosened some of the rules banning Americans from traveling to Cuba as part of an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations. Even with the trade embargo still in place, that slight policy change helped create a boomlet of entrepreneurship amid then-Cuban President Raul Castro’s thawing of tight state control over private businesses on the island.”

“Since taking over as Cuba’s president in 2018, Díaz-Canel has cracked down on Cuba’s private sector. Former President Donald Trump helped him smother the nascent economic reforms by reversing some of Obama’s attempts to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations and by slapping new economic sanctions on Cuba just before leaving office in January.

Advocates for maintaining the embargo against Cuba argue that increased trade and tourism would enrich and strengthen the communist regime while failing to aid most Cubans. This was basically Trump’s approach—one that reflects longstanding hardline conservative views about how to handle the communist state just 90 miles from the Florida coast. “There is zero reason to delude ourselves into believing that ‘engagement’ will get the tyrants in Havana to change their ways,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) wrote in January.

This is a clever misdirection. Where is the evidence that disengagement is working? The embargo has been in place for nearly six decades. How much longer should we wait? How much longer should the people of Cuba have to wait?”

“As the people of Cuba strive to cast off their communist oppressors, the United States can do more than simply offer words of support. Undoing Trump’s restrictions on the remittances that many Cuban Americans send to their families still trapped under the communist regime would be a great place to start.

If Biden were to reinstate Obama’s travel and economic policies toward Cuba and call on Congress to end the failed trade embargo, it would be unlikely to immediately change the reality on the ground in Havana. But it would signal to the Cuban people—and to the country’s potential future leaders in the event of a full-scale toppling of the regime—that the United States is prepared to let trade and tourism serve as vital economic and political lifelines for the island’s long-suffering residents. And it would remove one excuse the Cuban government routinely uses to dismiss the failings of communism.”

DeSantis asks protesters to stay out of Florida roads in reversal on anti-riot law

“DeSantis pushed the ‘anti-riot” bill in the aftermath of last year’s racial justice protests that spread across the nation — and even cited protesters blocking roads as a justification for the measure that includes extra penalties for people accused of participating in riots and violent protests.

But Democrats and other critics of the law — which is being challenged in federal court — accused DeSantis and other Republicans of supporting selective enforcement of the measure. They said the measure was designed to target Black protesters upset with police shootings. But now DeSantis and other GOP leaders are in a difficult position since they support the aims of many of the demonstrators backing Cuba in Miami and elsewhere.

This week, demonstrators blocked major roadways for hours in Miami-Dade County without any reports of arrests or citations. But the Tampa Bay Times reported on Wednesday that two demonstrators in Tampa were held in jail overnight without bail because of a provision in the new law.
On Tuesday, DeSantis sidestepped a question about whether authorities should arrest people blocking roads as part of protests in solidarity with Cuba. Those demonstrations popped up in several cities as Cuban Americans voice their support to Cuban protesters who are demanding an end to the authoritarian regime that has controlled the island nation for the past six decades.

On Thursday, the governor reversed course and said that authorities could not “tolerate” people blocking roads.
“It’s dangerous for you to be shutting down a thoroughfare,” DeSantis said during a press conference with Florida GOP Reps. María Salazar and Carlos Giménez calling on the Biden administration to help restore Internet access to Cuba. “You’re also putting other people in jeopardy. You don’t know if an emergency vehicle needs to get somewhere and then obviously it’s just disrespectful to make people stand in traffic.”

DeSantis repeated his assertion that his ‘anti-riot’ bill was meant to crackdown on violent protesters.”

Biden’s No. 1 Task in Cuba? Find Out What Happened in Havana.

“The starting point of any conversation about U.S. policy toward Cuba needs to be a piece of unfinished business from the previous administration: the still-unfolding mystery of how 26 American diplomats were injured in Havana in 2016 and 2017.

The exact origins of the injuries remain uncertain, but the known and emerging evidence suggests the Cuban regime is guilty, if not by commission then at least by omission, of injuring U.S. personnel. This episode represents a likely direct attack on one country’s citizens by another, and there has yet to be a full accounting of who is responsible and how it all happened, or a resolution. If the Biden administration is tempted to engage anew with Havana, it must first hold the Cuban government to account for what these American diplomats endured.”

“Cuba consistently denied involvement. Instead, the regime has peddled the theory that the cause was mass psychogenic illness—aka. mass hysteria—among America’s diplomatic personnel. Conveniently, this theory absolves Cuba of blame, shifting it instead to the victims. Yet the theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny now, and never did.”

“Accountability for the injuries of these 26 Americans must begin where the attacks started, in Havana.”