- A top House Democrat on Monday called on Biden to reverse Trump era sanctions on Cuba.
- Cubans staged mass protests on Sunday over a lack of freedoms and a worsening economic crisis.
- Biden’s Cuba policy so far has effectively been a continuation of Trump’s.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Monday urged President Joe Biden to lift sanctions imposed on Cuba by former President Donald Trump.
Meeks call for the sanctions to be lifted came after historic protests against Cuba’s Communist government, with thousands of Cubans flooding the streets to express outrage over a lack of freedoms and a worsening economic crisis.
“I commend these brave protesters and all those demanding respect for democracy anywhere around the world, including here at home, for standing up and making their voices heard. Cubans are facing profound hardship because of the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, the entrenched culture of corruption and mismanagement among Cuba’s leadership, and the strict sanctions callously imposed by the Trump Administration,” Meeks said in a statement.
“Cubans are angry and they have every right to express their frustrations and engage in peaceful protest — basic human freedoms that must be respected, not punished,” Meeks added. “I call on President Biden to help alleviate the suffering in Cuba by rescinding the Trump era sanctions and offering additional humanitarian and vaccine assistance to the Cuban people.”
Trump reversed the Obama administration’s move to open up economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba, tightening the decades-old US embargo and imposing a slew of new sanctions that have contributed to food and medicine shortages.
During the 2020 campaign season, Biden pledged to renew engagement with Cuba and roll back Trump’s sanctions.
“I’d try to reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans and their families,” Biden said in September 2020, adding that Trump “has done nothing to advance democracy and human rights; on the contrary, the crackdown on Cubans by the regime has gotten worse under Trump, not better.”
But Biden’s Cuba policy so far has effectively been a continuation of Trump’s. In March, eighty House Democrats sent a letter to Biden imploring him to repeal Trump’s “cruel” sanctions on Cuba and return to the Obama administration’s approach of rekindled engagement.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Monday blamed the recent unrest on US “economic asphyxiation.” Over the years, Cuban leaders have frequently attributed the country’s economic woes to the US government.
Critics of the US embargo, which has been the centerpiece of US policy toward Cuba for six decades, say that it’s failed to foster democratic changes in the island nation and primarily served as a convenient scapegoat for the authoritarian government.
“It has arguably strengthened the regime there by handing Havana an excuse for its own failures while generating sympathy for it abroad,” Daniel Griswold, a senior affiliated scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, wrote of the embargo in the Miami Herald last year.
Biden on Monday said he stands with the anti-government protestors in Cuba, but there were no indications that his administration plans to shift its policy toward the Communist-led country.
—CSPAN (@cspan) July 12, 2021
“We are assessing how we can be helpful to the people of Cuba,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, without saying why Biden has not yet rescinded Trump’s sanctions as he vowed to last year. Psaki pushed back on the notion that US policy contributed to the recent demonstrations and suffering of Cubans.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also it would be a “grievous mistake” for the Cuban government to blame the massive protests that took place on Sunday as “the product of anything the United States has done.”