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US sidelined amid historic mass protests for Cuban freedom

Rachel Oswald, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

“Even conservative governments from Europe and Latin America have never agreed with the policy of the embargo because it imposed indiscriminate sanctions against the people of Cuba and it has showed to be absolutely ineffective,” Vivanco said. “If you want to bring change to Cuba, a transition from dictatorship to democracy, you need to create a multilateral approach, a new type of approach to create the right kind of incentives and pressure for the Cuban [regime] to take those steps.”

For fiscal 2022, the Biden administration requested $20 million for Cuba democracy and human rights-related activities, in line with recent annual appropriations.

Though strong public health measures managed to keep coronavirus infections low on the island for most of 2020, the case count in recent weeks has surged there, adding to the already serious economic woes that the global pandemic exacerbated.

A nonbinding bipartisan, bicameral resolution offering support to Cuban protesters while condemning Havana’s repressive crackdown was introduced last week by leading Cuban American lawmakers including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. It is expected to easily pass both chambers.

Push for internet access

Some lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to use satellite-based technology to provide internet access to Cubans. The military-led regime — for the first time in decades now under the leadership of someone who is not a Castro brother, President Miguel Díaz-Canel — moved quickly last week to cut off access to social media platforms to prevent Cubans from organizing further protests and fomenting dissent.

“I believe we can still do much more to address this issue by working with private companies and civil society to expand internet access to help Cubans use VPN and other circumvention tools,” said Sires, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, referring to virtual private networks aimed at securing communications.


Testifying before the subcommittee, Rosa María Payá Acevedo, director of Cuba Decide, a pro-democracy Cuban citizen-led initiative, also called on the U.S. government to find a way to ensure internet access for Cubans.

“We ask the United States to move quickly and to enable the Cuban citizens with a way of communication that in this moment has the capacity to save lives,” said Payá, the daughter of a prominent Cuban political activist who was killed nearly a decade ago in a car crash that his family believes was premeditated.

Last week, Rubio wrote to Biden, urging him to “immediately” allocate funding to a proposed effort to work with U.S. companies to stand-up “fiber-less” solutions that can be dispatched to remote regions of Cuba fairly quickly.

“American technical capacity, coupled with the physical proximity of Cuba to the United States and its interests, make providing unrestricted access to the island an attainable and morally imperative goal,” Rubio said. “U.S. companies stand ready and willing to support this effort with the support of the federal government.”

At a Tuesday press briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. government was exploring ways to boost internet access in Cuba. “We will be actively collaborating with our private sector partners to identify ways that may in fact be creative to ensure the Cuban people have access to the free flow of information on the internet,” Price said.

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