President Biden announced on Thursday that his administration will impose sanctions on the key collaborators of the Cuban dictatorship, according to a statement released by the White House earlier this Thursday. The administration will impose targeted sanctions on both the head of the military and the leader of the Cuban repressive apparatus. According to the President, these sanctions are “just the beginning”.
This is not the first time that the U.S. government has levied individual sanctions on Cuban government officials, with the Trump Administration also imposing financial punishment on key government officials both in 2019 and 2020. However, the sanctions represent an implicit rejection of the Obama-era policy of rapprochement with the Cuban dictatorship, which saw the U.S. eliminate many of the restrictions it had imposed on the regime.
While key Republican lawmakers have applauded the measure, many have said that these sanctions will not be enough. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has said that while it is a “welcomed step” it is also important to note that “most of the regime officials are already sanctioned” since at least 2018 and 2019. Conservative media strategist, the Cuban-American Giancarlo Sopo tweeted that this measure “actually places zero pressure on the regime” and that Washington D.C should do much more.
The Cuban people have protested against the authoritarian communist regime that has ruled the island since Castro deposed former dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The Cuban government, now led by Miguel Díaz-Canel, has responded with ruthless brutality, with at least a hundred protesters being reported detained or missing.
Cuban-Americans have expressed their support to their fellow Cubans by protesting in Miami and throughout the country. Many American politicians and lawmakers have reacted to the historic protests by loudly condemning the regime and supporting the protesters and, after a day of mixed messaging, the Biden White House finally joined the chorus of support towards the Cuban people.
While the Biden White House has declared its public support towards the Cuban cause, his administration’s approach towards what should be done to pressure the Cuban dictatorship has been accused of not acting quickly or decisively enough to support the plight of the protesters on the island.
Biden Cuba’s policy: Real commitment or pure rethoric?
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the administration has decided to deal with the ongoing Cuban crisis by imposing targeted sanctions on government officials involved in human rights violations, coordinating a response with the international community, working with Cuban American leaders, restoring internet connection to the Cuban people, and restaffing the American Embassy at La Havana.
However, these actions still lack a coordinated and systemic approach with an end goal in mind. How are individual sanctions going to really pressure the regime if most of them are already sanctioned? In which specific ways is the international community going to pressure the Havana regime? Will the U.S. move quickly to provide free Internet to the Cuban people? How is the government going to protect its staff from the mysterious “Havana syndrome”?
The lack of a coordinated strategy (at least for now) is not a surprise. The Cuban protests have taken the government by surprise, forcing them to concentrate on an issue they would rather not. After all, it was only a few months ago that Jen Psaki said that the review of the Cuban policy was “not a priority” for the Biden administration.
Biden and fellow Democrats are facing a dilemma when dealing with the issue of Cuba. Many of its most progressives supporters tend to follow the Havana propaganda and blame the misfortunes of the Cuban people in the “blockade” of the U.S., like the BLM organization, while other progressives have actually played the role of apologists of the Castrista regime, like Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the 2020 primary.
However, the dismal results of the Democrats in South Florida in 2020 give a political incentive for Biden to take a harsher position against the Cuban dictatorship, which is probably why he has gone out of his way to say that communism is a failed system and that socialism is “not a very useful substitute”, to the probable dismay of the most radical wing of his party.
Hence, while Biden would have preferred to not prioritize Cuba, the latest protests have forced him to take a position. Whether his administration will actually take a coordinated and effective policy aiming for a free Cuba or if he will only take some symbolic actions to safe face remains to be seen..