Biden outlines future US policy options on Cuba

Photo by Jose Matute 

President Biden and senior US officials have outlined some of the options they are considering to increase pressure on the Cuban government to induce change.

In a statement issued on 25 July, in which he announced new sanctions intended to “hold accountable for their actions” Cuba’s Minister of the Armed Forces, General Álvaro López and the National Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior, the US President said that these were “just the beginning.”

Condemning what he said were “mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out,” Biden confirmed that his administration was working with civil society organisations and the private sector to provide internet access to the Cuban people to circumvent censorship, reviewing US remittances policy, and restaffing the US embassy in Havana to provide consular services and to better engage with civil society.

Biden also said that the US is hoping to internationalise support for its actions, indicating that it wants  to work closely with partners throughout the region, including the Organisation of American States, to pressure Cuba to release “wrongfully detained political prisoners, restore internet access, and allow the Cuban people to enjoy their fundamental rights.”

Additional detail was provided in several media briefings:

Answering questions from journalists, Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, said that the administration was working closely with the US private sector and Congress to identify viable options to make the Internet more accessible to the Cuban people. She also said that it is exploring how it might “leverage” international organisation partners to increase humanitarian assistance flows to Cuba, and work with international partners “to help both voice concern and put public pressure on, but also work with, international organisations.”

In addition, Psaki said that the White House will form a remittance working group to identify the most effective way to place remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people. She also said that the Treasury Department via OFAC was continuing to explore designating Cuban officials responsible for “violence, repression, and human rights violations” against peaceful protesters in Cuba.  

Answering questions from journalists sceptical about the effectiveness of sanctions on named individuals and the viability of placing remittances directly into the hands of Cubans, Ned Price, the State Department Spokesman, said that both policies could be made to work. The Biden Administration, he said, intends on building international pressure against “those responsible” for the repression that had followed recent protests. The US, he said, will leverage international partners, including international organisations, “to do what we can to increase humanitarian assistance flows to Cuba.” The US would also be “working diligently with the international community to collectively condemn this repression and support the Cuban people.”

Speaking specifically about solutions to internet censorship, content blocking, and shutdowns, Price said that the US had secure circumvention and communication tools available to internet users everywhere. These tools enable users to seek access to blocked websites and social media platforms. The US, he said, has US$60mn in funding available on a worldwide basis each year, and was exploring making some of this available to the Cuban people. 

Price was however unable to give any implementation time frame for any of the proposed administration responses but, said that officials were studying the issues with members of Congress, the Cuban-American community, and others “to determine what and how we might be able to move forward in a way that supports the Cuban people.”

Experts suggest that being able to provide unrestricted direct internet access is technically complex, and that developing a payments system for remittances that circumvents both Cuban and US regulations could be hard to deliver.

Cuba blames Washington for economic problems and unrest

In response, to US statements Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said that far from supporting the people of Cuba the US Government was responsible for the economic shortcomings they face. “The coercive measures that seek to render our people out of hunger and necessity will not subdue #CubaSoberana,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Responding at greater length, Cuba’s foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez rejected US accusations about repression, the treatment of protestors and the internet.

He categorically rejected US allegations made against General López Miera, suggesting that there had been no act of repression or a social outbreak in Cuba. He also called on the US to present a single case of a disappeared person. The US Government he said “does not have any moral authority to request the release of people detained in Cuba. It is an act of interference and intervention in our internal affairs”.

Rodriguez went on to tell the media that Cuba rejected the Biden proposal related to the internet. “The main obstacle to the connectivity of Cuban citizens with the internet, with digital networks and with other telecommunications services …. Is the extreme manipulation of digital networks” and “the improper conduct of technological platforms”, he said.

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