As Biden takes action on Cuban politics, some Cuban Americans say they want to see stronger action

MIAMI – Belkis Gutiérrez, 54, is constantly on the phone watching videos from Cuba that show people’s dissatisfaction with the government following the historic protests that rocked the communist island several weeks ago.

Gutiérrez, who backed President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, said she wanted to see bolder action by the administration towards Cuba following arrests of protesters and concerns about food shortages and the increase of Covid-19 cases.

“I expected something more forceful than just sanctioning Cuban officials who don’t travel to the United States anyway,” said Gutiérrez, who left Cuba two decades ago and has close relatives on the island.

When asked what she would prefer, Gutiérrez said Biden should form an international coalition that can travel to Cuba and engage in dialogue with the government to demand concrete changes from him.

Many Cuban Americans want to see bolder action against the Cuban government, with demands ranging from military intervention to lifting the decades-long embargo.

Biden is in a tight spot. The Cuba sanctions program is already the most comprehensive administered by the US Bureau of Foreign Assets Control, leaving Biden little room for additional sanctions. Since the protests, Biden’s administration has sanctioned three Cuban officials and two entities it said were involved in the crackdown – the Cuban Revolutionary National Police and an elite brigade of government forces known as the “Black Berets.” “. But these sanctions are largely symbolic. Earlier this year, the Biden administration kept Cuba on the list of countries not fully cooperating with US efforts to combat terrorism, which surprised many, including those in the Cuban government.

Since then and especially after the protests, rhetoric from officials from both countries has intensified, with the US condemning human rights abuses in Cuba and island officials accusing the US government of fomenting the unrest. . Even after Cuban Embassy in Paris attacked with petrol bombs, the Cuban government blamed the United States and “the continued campaigns against our country.”

Jason Poblete, a Washington, DC lawyer and Republican who criticized Biden’s response, called for tougher measures against the Cuban government, including more restrictions on the embargo and decades-long sanctions.

“July 11 is perhaps a once in a generation event,” said Poblete. “Stakeholders should reach out to all parties and ideological lines to develop a new policy.”

A man is arrested during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on July 11.Yamil Lage / AFP – Getty Images File

Last week, Biden met with a group of Cuban-American elected officials and community leaders to discuss the American response. Some – left and right – criticized the meeting, saying the group did not capture what all Cuban Americans felt. Others said the administration should listen to Cubans on the island rather than those here.

Ric Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, which advocates for greater engagement between the two countries, was at the recent White House meeting and highlighted “practical steps” the administration can take, in in particular to improve access to the Internet, which many see as crucial in giving the Cuban population more information and greater freedom of expression.

Herrero said the steps include “authorizing cloud-based subscription services, online payment and peer-to-peer platforms in Cuba which are currently banned due to US sanctions,” as well as other more complex methods, such as high altitude balloons to extend Internet access, are being explored.

Herrero thinks the actions former President Donald Trump took against Cuba – like limiting travel, remittances, and downsizing the embassy – are harmful “because what you’re trying to do is help strengthen the people “.

At the meeting, there was a diversity of views from right and left, according to Carmen Pelaez, a filmmaker and activist who was part of a group of about nine Cuban Americans.

“You had all the views represented on US-Cuban politics,” Pelaez said, “but the focus was on how best to support the Cuban people.”

In Florida, foreign policy is domestic policy

While protests in Cuba have subsided, in Miami the momentum continues. Cuban Americans have rallied to support them in Miami and Washington, DC Cars drive through Miami with Cuban flags, while reggaeton and salsa songs calling for freedom in Cuba are broadcast on the radio. The emotion Cuban Americans feel after hearing the word “freedom” chanted in the streets of Cuba is still palpable in the conversations.

For Biden, the stakes are high. Trump won Florida, traditionally a swing state and the largest in the country, by about 3 percentage points, reversing the gains made by Democrats when the former President Barack Obama wins Cuban-American vote in 2012. A majority of Cuban Americans in 2020 voted for Trump, with the biggest change in support for Trump coming from other groups of Latino voters from countries that have been affected by socialism or Marxist movements and therefore support a tough stance against Cuba.

These groups are all closely monitoring Biden’s response to Cuba, making it something of a litmus test for the president.

The Trump administration combined its policies towards Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, often taking action against Cuba for supporting President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela as the country slipped into an economic crisis.

At a recent rally at Miami’s Bayfront Park, hundreds of people gathered to call for freedom for Cuba, as well as for Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Sol Diaz, 7, attends a rally at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami on Saturday. Matias J. Ocner / AP

Following the protests, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, called to explore air strikes and military intervention against Cuba.

Republicans have capitalized on events in Cuba. Two days after the protests, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hosted a roundtable in Miami to address concerns. Kevin McCarthy, from California, launched a leadership advisory team on Cuba and traveled to Miami this week, not only to meet with Cuban-Americans, but also Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Colombians and Peruvians – groups who have struggled with governments or socialist movements in their country. countries. Members of the Cuban-American Congress also participated in “freedom” rallies in Miami and Washington, DC

“Republicans have made Cuban pimping a science,” Herrero said, adding that demands made about what to do in Cuba are impractical.

“Republicans know this,” Herrero said. “And they’re going to keep hammering out demands for military intervention because what they want to do is embarrass Biden.”

But Republicans have been notoriously good at actively engaging Cuban Americans and other Latino diasporas. Trump launched his Cuban policy in 2017 with an audience of Cuban Americans in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, and visits by administration officials have never ceased.

Some Democrats have asked Biden to come to Miami and speak to Cuban Americans.

Since the protests, Florida Democrats have been strong in their statements against the Cuban government, but collectively their engagement has not reached the Republicans’ level.

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic agency also running for governor in 2022, has been active, meeting with Cuban American leaders, participating in a protest in Miami and tweet repeatedly about Cuba, calling for freedom.

Both the Democratic National Committee and Nuestro PAC have launched advertisements targeting Cuban American voters highlighting Biden’s support for the Cuban people. Senator Rick Scott, R-Fla., Also posted an ad in Florida and Washington, DC, pledging undying support for protesters in Cuba.

“Republicans and Democrats should approach this issue one way: what is best for American interests first, not the interests of a single state, Florida,” Poblete said.

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