Cuba, Communism, and the Embargo Problem

This week, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in protest, demanding government action to address severe economic want and the COVID-19 pandemic, while also calling for the resignation of President Miguel Díaz-Canel and the end of sixty years of Communist rule. In response, the Cuban government has arrested over one hundred protesters and called on its supporters to fight back against the “counter-revolution” it claims is being orchestrated by the U.S. government.

Within the U.S., disagreement over the cause of the protests and the proper American response to them are rooted in a wider debate over the long-standing U.S. embargo policy toward Cuba. While President Obama took steps to thaw the relationship between Washington and Havana by easing sanctions and restrictions, President Trump ratcheted the pressure back up. Now, despite statements from then-candidate Biden promising a return to a less confrontational relationship with Cuba, now-President Biden has retained much of the policy framework of his immediate predecessor.

Following the recent protests, President Biden released an official statement heavy on uplifting democratic sentiment, but light on policy specifics:

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. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected.

In response, many within Biden’s party spoke out against Washington’s trade embargo, arguing it exacerbates the humanitarian distress in Cuba. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks’ used the official Committee twitter account to state:

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.

However, others, like Dr. Ryan Berg of CSIS, took a less critical stance on current U.S. policies toward Cuba, telling USA Today:

It’s going to be a lot harder for [the Biden Administration] to engage in the opening to the regime that they campaigned on . . . I think that becomes increasingly more difficult the more we see citizen uprisings . . . met with repression.

Worth considering: How should the current protests in Cuba be viewed within the context of long-running American policy toward the island, and what (if anything) should the U.S. do to support this democratic movement?

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