House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy huddled with members of the House GOP’s 16-member Cuba advisory group Wednesday to discuss policy options to aid Cuban protesters pushing back against the Communist regime to hold it accountable.
The group is weighing its legislative options, with members asserting they are looking to work across the aisle and with the Biden administration to ramp up pressure on Cuba to allow for peaceful protesting in the face of violence and repression from Cuban officials. Following the advisory group’s first meeting, McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he plans to hold meetings in Miami, where members can hear from experts and people impacted by the human rights abuses.
“We’ve got a lot of different ones that we were going to move forward on. First thing we’re going to do, too, is, you know, we sent a letter to all the ambassadors, we’ve got a letter to the president, [on] actions that we think need to take place,” McCarthy told The Post.
“We want to make sure to invite Democrats to join us, we’re going to do a complete conference policy meeting next week to educate everybody the places [we’re] going, and we’re talking about putting a meeting together down in Miami.”
Some of the island’s largest protests in recent history have emerged in the wake of food, medicine, electricity and internet shortages. And lawmakers in the group have vowed to do all in their power to help secure freedom in the country.
McCarthy announced earlier this month he tapped GOP Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Gimenez and Maria Salazar of Florida, Nicole Malliotakis of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Puerto Rico Delegate Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes and Ken Calvert of California, Mark Green of Tennessee, Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, Chris Smith of New Jersey, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul and House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger of Texas, and Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington to serve on the panel, which was formed shortly after the demonstrations began to heat up.
Salazar joined Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio for a town hall on Fox News’ “Hannity” Wednesday night to call on the Biden administration to do more to help the Cuban people following protests against Havana’s Communist regime last week.
She and Rubio accused Biden of refusing to meet with them to discuss next steps.
“We’re very frustrated. We are very upset, because we have called respectfully and we have told the Biden administration this has nothing to do with political parties,” Salazar, whose district includes Miami’s Little Havana, told host Sean Hannity. “He will not meet with us.”
“We’ve asked for meetings,” Rubio concurred. “It hasn’t happened so far.”
Malliotakis said she is encouraged by the Biden administration’s talk of new sanctions, but feels it needs to be acting more swiftly to aid in securing the internet on the island so its people can communicate and get their message out.
“We’re coming up with action items that we think that the Biden administration should be taking to try to advance the cause of the Cuban people who want freedom. We are disappointed with the response from the Biden administration thus far,” she said.
The New York Republican, who was briefed by the State Department along with a handful of other members, said she was encouraged the administration indicated it would not lift the embargo, arguing lifting it would “only further prop up the regime that is weakened right now.” She added that there are existing bipartisan measures she would like to see move in the House.
“What I do believe they need to do a better job of is, they need to work quicker to get internet access to the island, so people can continue to upload these videos and the world can see both the demonstrations and the abuses of the regime that are beating and jailing and abducting, and shooting at their own citizens. And the second thing is to really push democracies, freedom-loving countries from around the world to join and to push in a united effort to rid the island of this illegitimate regime and bring freedom and democracy to the island,” she continued.
“We have a number of bipartisan resolutions. I have introduced a bipartisan resolution, also [Rep. Debbie] Wasserman [Schultz (D-Fla.)] has introduced a resolution and so far it has not come up for a vote and we’re hoping that it’s going to come to the Foreign Affairs Committee for a vote,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be hard to stand on the side of freedom and to condemn a brutal, murderous regime.”
A number of progressives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — both socialists — have slammed the embargo, with Sanders tweeting that it has “only hurt, not helped, the Cuban people.”
But GOP lawmakers blasted their argument, asserting that the Cuban regime controls how much money and what resources are made available to its citizens.
“When you hear Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and others talk about lifting the embargo, they [Cuba] do business with nearly every other country in the world and nothing gets to the people, any of the money, any of the medicine,” Malliotakis said.
Green echoed her calls for the embargo to remain intact.
“Well, we obviously have to keep the embargo in place, I mean 90 percent of the economy in Cuba is run by military holding companies. So, any lifting of the embargo just empowers the regime more,” he said.
Green said one option they could move forward with is a resolution calling for the people of Cuba to be allowed to have a First Amendment.
One potential avenue lawmakers have weighed advocating is pushing for the creation of a back channel to be able to communicate with allies in Cuba in a similar fashion to the system the Trump administration pursued with allies in Iran.
McCaul, who has been vocal in pushing back against the Cuban regime, stressed the importance of ensuring internet access is available to allow Cubans to fight for their freedoms, noting legislation he and Sen. Masha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have worked on in an attempt to ensure access to open communication is available.
“The Open Technology Fund, which Senator Blackburn and I authorized, has helped to fund technology that is currently circumventing Chinese-supported censorship in Cuba,” he said.
“Our estimates are nearly 1.3 million Cubans have access to the internet because of initiatives supported by the Open Technology Fund. We need more tools like the Open Technology Fund to support people around the world who are fighting for their freedom, like the people in Cuba.”
Gimenez said helping seek technological solutions is a key component in aiding Cuban protesters in being able to protect themselves from violence and add transparency to the situation on a broader platform.
“We want the people of Cuba to be able to communicate with themselves, and also with the outside world. We think that that’s a very, that’s really a very important aspect of this, because this was all organic,” he said.
“So we think that the Cubans, what they did is they tried to shut that down, and they have. So if we re-establish it, then organically the Cubans can again start to organize, and then also can protect themselves somewhat from the brutality of the regime by videoing, and then also sending those signals.”
Biden called for the State Department to establish a working group on Monday that would be tasked with examining remittances in an attempt to ensure money being sent to relatives in Cuba is received by the proper individuals and not seized by the regime.