WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said on Monday the United States “stands firmly” with the people of Cuba after thousands of Cubans protested against the communist government over the weekend.
“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said in a statement.
“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves,” he added.
The statement from Biden comes after thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest against the Cuban government as food and medicine shortages heightened amid the coronavirus pandemic coupled with a low vaccination rate. The demonstrations are said to be the biggest anti-government demonstration in 30 years.
The protests present the Biden administration with a rocky dilemma as lawmakers are calling on the White House to reverse sanctions on Cuba put in place by former President Donald Trump just before he left office, which still remains intact. However, other politicians have called on taking a tough stance against Cuba.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel accused the United States of pursuing a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country,” according to the news agency AFP. Díaz-Canel has blamed Cuba’s economic troubles on the U.S. trade restrictions and the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
During his campaign for president, Biden committed to reverse the Trump-era policies, saying at the time that Trump’s approach “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.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday the administration was closely monitoring the protests but did not give any answer if the President was considering a change in policy.
Speaking at a meeting with Democrat leaders on gun reform, Biden said Cuba has not seen protests like this in quite some time.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like these protests in a long, long time if, quite frankly, ever,” Biden said. “The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba.”