President Joe Biden finally pronounced himself on the historic and spontaneous protests that began on Sunday, July 11 in Cuba. In the first line of the statement, the president states that his administration stands with the Cuban people and the call for freedom, in a much stronger and more determined rhetoric than that used yesterday by officials of his own government.
“We express our support for the Cuban people and their cry for freedom and relief from the tragic consequences of the pandemic, and the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” the statement reads.
“The Cuban people are acting courageously in claiming their fundamental and universal rights. These rights, which include the right to peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to listen to its people and address their needs at this vital time, rather than enrich itself.”
The Cuban people need concrete actions
Last Sunday, hours after the demonstrations began in Cuba, officials of the Biden Administration pronounced themselves on the uprising of the Cuban people. One of the first was the acting undersecretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie J. Chung, who claimed inaccurately that the protests arose simply because of a problem of medicine shortages.
“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need,” Chung wrote on Twitter.
The Cuban people themselves expressly asked for freedom and the end of the Castro regime that has ruled the island for more than sixty years. Some of the chants were: “Down With Communism”, “Freedom“, “Fatherland And Life”, “Down With The Dictatorship”, “Long Live Free Cuba”, “No More Lies”, “Down With Diaz-Canel”, “Change”, “We Are Not Afraid” and “Yes We Can”. While the health crisis may have influenced the taking to the streets, the demonstrations go much deeper than a simple request for medicine.
Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) criticized Chung’s tweet and the State Department in a video calling it ridiculous.
“It’s already 10:15 at night, it’s been more than 12-13 hours since the protests began in Cuba and still President Biden and the White House have not made a statement. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to speak out in favor of a people who are asking for freedom, who are asking for opportunity, who are asking for economic freedom and political freedom; and they have been asking for it for sixty-two years,” Senator Rubio began his video.
“What we see is a tweet like the one here from the State Department, from a lady who I think has done a good job, but in that case her mind wandered or she was told she had to say that […] what she says in this tweet […] is that this is only about COVID […] that is ridiculous,” the senator remarked.
“Here we are talking about people who are tired of 62 years of lies, 62 years of socialist failure; 62 years of tyranny, of oppression, they are tired of their children having to leave the country to be able to look for opportunities and live a life. They are tired of these foreigners coming to Cuba to abuse Cuban girls and young women”.Senator Marco Rubio in response to Julie J. Chung.
If one compares President Biden’s statement to the words expressed by Chung, it is clear that the rhetoric has changed, as he acknowledges the Cuban people’s request for freedom. However, Cubans in exile and dissidents on the island themselves affirm that Cuba needs much more than words and requires concrete actions to remove Castro’s tyranny.
If Biden does not act accordingly to the Cuban people’s request, the demonstrations run the risk of dissipating as happened in Nicaragua and Venezuela, where they lasted for months without achieving a change of regime. The result was catastrophic, as both Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega emerged stronger after the cooling of the streets. Today Cuba runs that risk.