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Republican Party and activists pressure Biden to do more on the Cuban uprising

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Republican Party and activists pressure Biden to do more on the Cuban uprising

The Democratic National Committee this week launched a digital advertising campaign in Florida highlighting the actions of President Biden to support Cubans who rise up against the repressive government of that nation.

“The president has been incredibly clear: the Cuban people are crying out for freedom and the United States will continue to support them and hold Cuban officials accountable for their human rights abuses,” DNC President Jaime Harrison said in a statement on Monday.

But outside the White House on Sunday and Monday, thousands of protesters waving Cuban flags and signs adorned with “SOS Cuba” were sending the opposite message. The administration is not in action, they argued, and needs to do much more to increase pressure on the communist regime.

“Where is Biden?” the crowd chanted many times during the Lafayette Park protests, often led by Alexander Otaola, a popular YouTube host and activist from Florida’s exiled Cuban community. Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott, as well as the three Cuban-American members of the Miami-area Republican House of Representatives, participated Monday, often echoing the crowd’s dissatisfaction.

“@POTUS: Listen to the Cuban-American community and its legitimately ELECTED representatives,” Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, the longest-serving Cuban-American member of the House of Representatives, later tweeted. “The oppressed Cuban people demand freedom. Stand up next to them! “

The administration’s response to the largest uprising in the island nation’s 62-year communist rule is creating international confusion about how America’s allies should respond, activists tell RealClear Politics.

Calls for Biden to take more action came hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a coalition of 20 countries united in support of the Cuban people. Those countries issued a joint declaration, asking the Havana regime to respect Cuban demands for universal human rights. The United States was joined by Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Guatemala, Greece, Honduras, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, South Korea and Ukraine.

Since protesters took to the streets in Cuba two weeks ago, chanting “freedom” and calling on President Miguel Díaz-Canel to resign, hundreds of them have been beaten or arrested and at least one has died, according to human rights activists. But there have been no cracks in the Cuban government’s authoritarian response, and support for the Cuban people from the US-led coalition is unlikely to produce a change in the regime’s tactics. The coalition, critics complain, lacks the most influential countries in the region.

“The Cuban people are grateful for the support of responsible and freedom-loving nations. Notably absent [are] the main economic facilitators of the Communist Party in America and Europe, particularly Mexico, Canada and Spain, ”said Jason Poblete, president of the Global Liberty Alliance (an international human rights organization) and son of Cuban immigrants.

The show of international support follows a new round of sanctions by the Biden administration targeting specific members of the communist government responsible for ordering the violent crackdown. The administration argues that it is doing all it can without causing a broader international conflagration. Four days after the protests began, Biden surprised many in his party by publicly denouncing Cuba, calling it a “failed state” and communism in general as a “failed system.”

But the administration’s slow actions – the sanctions came nearly a week and a half after the protests began – have many human rights activists and the all-Republican Cuban-American delegation in Congress increasingly concerned that one will soon be lost. fundamental opportunity.

On Monday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, along with a group of 18 other Republican lawmakers, signed a letter to Biden requesting a meeting to discuss next steps. Lawmakers, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, urged the president to work with Congress “to end the oppressive communist regime in Havana and free the Cuban people.”

“Now is the time to act,” they urged, expressing concern that this window of change on the island “is being squandered by indecision, bureaucracy and a lack of leadership.”

Rubio has urged Biden to support his calls on the Cuban government to allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, to investigate human rights violations in Cuba since the crackdown. (The IACHR is an arm of the Organization of American States, a regional forum for policy-making and decision-making in the Western Hemisphere.) Rubio also wants the administration to pressure Cuba to allow access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to deliver humanitarian aid and for the United States to convene an emergency meeting of the permanent council of the OAS.

More generally, Rubio and several other Cuban-American lawmakers have urged Biden to act quickly to provide a consistent and reliable Internet to the Cuban people after the government shut it down in the early days of the protests. Access has reportedly been restored, although it remains patchy in places.

“The White House can do two things: bring the international community together and turn on Wi-Fi,” Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Florida Republican, told the crowd protesting outside the White House on Monday. But restoring consistent Internet access on the island is proving much more difficult than flipping a switch, according to numerous sources familiar with the process. It is also complicated by a previous failed attempt by the United States to stealthily expand telecommunications when Alan Gross, a US government contractor, was arrested in Cuba in 2009. He was indicted in Havana for attempting to bring in military-grade communications equipment designed to evade government detection. President Obama secured his release in late 2014 in exchange for three Cuban spies being detained in the US.

Despite obvious obstacles, Biden has said he wants to work with Congress to review whether the United States can help Cubans regain Internet access, as Rubio and others have stepped up their calls for immediate action.

A State Department spokesperson reiterated that commitment to the RCP.

“The entire United States government supports unrestricted access to the open, interoperable, reliable, and secure global Internet and condemns the Cuban government’s actions to restrict and limit access to the Internet and all forms of telecommunications,” the spokesperson said. “… We call on the leaders of Cuba to restore all Internet and telecommunications services. The administration is working closely with the United States Congress and key stakeholders to identify viable options to make online access more available to the Cuban people. “

But for the past two weeks, Rubio has repeatedly championed what he considers simpler solutions.

“There are two ways to help the Cuban people to overcome the problems of the regime. [I]Internet blocking, ”the two-term senator tweeted on Thursday. “We can immediately fund access to a proven VPN provider. In the long term, we can provide satellite / cell service from balloons and other methods. @POTUS we should do both as soon as possible. “

Senator Bob Menéndez, another prominent Cuban American and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has since pierced Rubio’s balloon proposal. “I am totally in favor of creating Internet access in Cuba in a way that works, that the regime has more difficulties to interfere,” he told the website. LatinoRebels.com. “If you have balloons, it has an omni-directional signal. I know the balloon is there. I know it lowers the signal. I block it. “

Rubio and other Republican lawmakers have targeted Project Loon, an experiment by Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, to provide Internet access to remote areas around the world via balloons. It was discontinued in January.

Rubio has cited the use of this approach after Hurricane Maria, when Puerto Rico was able to access the Internet through balloon technology. But Alphabet had permission from the United States to fly its balloons in Puerto Rico airspace at the time; now it lacks that permission from the government of Havana.

However, Rubio’s goal remains to ensure that the Cuban people can connect to the Internet. “That could be via satellite. It could be otherwise, ”he said. “I am not a technologist. We are working on it. “

Several human rights organizations say that the stagnation of internet access demonstrates why the United States should invest much more in technologies to help dissident communities living under numerous repressive regimes, including China and Iran.

“Cuba is a perfect example of how a small investment by the United States government in Internet freedom could open up an entire society,” Katrina Lantos Swett told RCP. Lantos Swett is the president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and a past president of the Commission on International Religious Freedom. She is also the daughter of the deceased representative. Tom Lantos, a longtime California Democrat and the only Holocaust survivor elected to the House.

“Internet freedom is truly the next frontier of human rights, and Cuba’s relatively small footprint and population would make any investment there a game changer,” he added. “It would also send an important signal to other authoritarian regimes around the world that continue to control their country’s Internet access that change is coming.”

Susan Crabtree is the National and White House Political Correspondent for RealClearPolitics.

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