President Biden is facing mounting political pressure to respond to the anti-government protests breaking out across Cuba, with Republicans urging the administration to take a stronger stance in support of the protesters, and some Democrats calling on the president to seize on the upheaval for a political opportunity.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida — both Cuban Americans — have led the criticism against the Biden administration’s handling of the growing unrest on the Caribbean island.
Cruz hit the Biden administration and White House press secretary Jen Psaki for saying Cubans are protesting the “mismanagement” by the government.
“The people protesting in the streets in Cuba are not protesting ‘mismanagement.’ If you listen to what they’re chanting, they’re not chanting ’manage better.’ They’re chanting ’libertad.’ They’re chanting ’freedom.’ They’re chanting down with the dictatorship,” Cruz said on Fox News.
“But for whatever reason Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are unwilling to speak plainly and to say the communist dictatorship in Cuba is evil,” he added.
During Thursday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki declared that “Communism was a failed ideology, and we certainly believe that it has failed the people of Cuba.”
“They deserve freedom,” Psaki added before going on to say that Biden had “made clear that he stands with the Cuban people and their call for freedom from both the pandemic and from decades of repression and economic suffering to which they’ve been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the Cuban protesters are fed up with decades of “socialist tyranny” and deserve US support.
“They’ve had enough of a regime that’s stolen their dreams for decades, they’ve had enough of its stranglehold on information and on prosperity, they’ve had enough of its intimidation and its repression,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech on Thursday.
He then accused Democrats of “running interference for the Cuban regime.”
“Some naive Americans on the left seem intent on once again running interference for the Cuban regime. They still buy the propaganda that Cuba is a socialist paradise, with a model health care and education system that we should actually emulate,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Rubio urged the Biden White House to take a more forceful approach to the situation and reach out to the United Nations and the Organization of American States, to get the international community to condemn and isolate Cuba’s government for its actions — or face the consequences.
“A horrific bloodbath is what awaits if action is not taken,” Rubio said in an interview on Fox News. “So far the response has been weak, weak. Why?”
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has urged the White House to take the lead on providing internet access to Cuba after the Havana regime shut down social media sites at the height of the protests.
“The Cuban people have lost their ability to communicate with one another, and many Floridians born in Cuba have no information on the safety of their loved ones,” DeSantis wrote in a letter to the president Wednesday. “Equally as important, the world has also lost the ability to see what is happening on the ground as the Cuban people rise in support of freedom.”
At a news conference in Miami Thursday, the governor said every option to supply internet service should be explored, including using offshore and satellite technology and converting the US Embassy in Cuba to a kind of hotspot.
“The one thing that communist regimes fear the most is the truth. And if we’re able to help Cubans communicate with one another — also communicate to the outside world — that truth is going to matter. That truth, I think, will be decisive,” DeSantis said. “And so, Mr. President, now’s the time to stand up and be counted.”
At a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday afternoon, Biden said the administration was “considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access.”
But Democrats in Southern Florida are urging the president to take advantage of the protests in Cuba — and boost his standing among Cuban-Americans, who supported former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
“I really believe this is one of those moments, I put it up with the moment of ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’ because I do believe we can give the hope to the people in Cuba,” Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo said, referring to Reagan’s 1987 speech in front of the Berlin Wall.
“It’s really about the people in Cuba who need to hear it. The words of the president of the U.S., be it Republican or Democrat, should matter,” said Taddeo, who is considering challenging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, according to the Miami Herald.
The president’s presence in Southern Florida could be a game-changer, she said.
Biden won the heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County by only 7 percentage points in 2020, but it fell far short of Hillary Clinton’s 29-point margin in 2016.
“Actions speak louder than words and again, to me, coming to Miami is an action in itself that is very strong,” Taddeo said. “We’ve got a real crisis. We need to grab that opportunity, which is why I compare it to the moment of Mr. Gorbachev.”
State Sen. Shevrin Jones said Biden appearing with Cuban community leaders would help him dismiss criticism from Republicans, who, he said, often speak more forcefully about Cuba and Haiti.
“This is a prime opportunity for the president to engage with not only the Cuban leadership in South Florida but also the Haitian leadership in South Florida,” said Jones, the Miami Herald reported.
“It’s clear there’s a disconnect between Cuban-Americans and the Democrats,” he said.
With Post wires