Biden: ‘We stand with the Cuban people’ amid historic protests

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President Joe Biden on Monday expressed solidarity with protesters in Cuba, where thousands of people rallied against food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus pandemic 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 released by the White House.

“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights,” he continued. “Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

The show of support from the American president comes after masses of protesters marched on the Malecon promenade in the capital city of Havana on Sunday, as well as elsewhere across the island.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Monday that the protests were “an act of great courage,” adding: “I support the Cuban people in their pursuit of liberty and condemn any violence or targeting of those exercising their rights.”

The protests and their scope are almost unprecedented in the history of the communist country, which faces a major economic crisis exacerbated by U.S. sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump.

Before the president’s statement on Monday, among the highest ranking administration officials to offer a comment in support of the Cuban protesters was Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising Covid cases/deaths & medicine shortages,” Chung tweeted on Sunday. “We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan also tweeted late Sunday that the U.S. “supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.”

Several congressional Republicans have expressed support for the protests, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who posted more than a dozen tweets in English and Spanish targeting socialist leaders and criticizing the White House’s failure to respond more quickly to the situation.

“The people of #Cuba bravely take to the streets against 62 years of socialist tyranny,” Rubio, who is Cuban American, tweeted on Sunday evening. “12 hours later President @JoeBiden @POTUS has yet to say a word about it.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another Cuban American lawmaker, also attacked Biden on Monday morning, shortly after the White House released its statement.

“What is it with the Biden administration?” Cruz tweeted. “The Cuban people are fighting for freedom against an illegitimate tyrannical regime that is willing to torture and kill to stay in power. American leaders must say so and condemn the regime and its brutality – unequivocally.”

The criticism of the administration’s response to the Cuba protests was not strictly partisan.

Brett Bruen, the former director of global engagement in former President Barack Obama’s White House, tweeted that Biden’s “delayed decision to support the protesters in #Cuba is a reflection of a policy process problem that continues to plague the Biden Administration – they are not making the right calls, at the right time & its costing them credibility.”

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