After historic protests, Biden “hit the pause button” on Cuban politics, senior official says

MIAMI – Washington’s Cuba policy, which has been under review for nearly a year, has “hit the pause button” after historic protests that rocked the US-led island. Communists on July 11, a senior US official said.

“There is a rule before July 11 and after July 11,” Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere, told NBC News, referring to the historic protests that took place in Cuba this past. summer.

He said that President Joe Biden “is very attached to questions of human rights, to questions of democracy. He’s not the type to think change will just come if you allow it.

Critics of Biden’s Cuban policy say the administration largely left former President Donald Trump’s policies, which included a barrage of sanctions, intact, and was slow to implement the changes.

“After July 11, we hit the pause button,” Gonzalez said. Even those Cuban-Americans who were in favor of the engagement said, ‘We have to wait – we have to look at this moment and understand how we are moving forward. ‘”

The July 11 protests were a turning point for Cuba that took the world by surprise. Thousands of people took to the streets and protested a series of grievances that included lack of freedom, shortages of food and medicine, and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The protests were the largest since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. The authorities responded with massive repression. More than 1,200 arrests have been made, according to human rights group Cubalex. More than 600 are still in prison, including some minors.

Open opposition and criticism of the Cuban government have increased since July 11. A group of activists planned an island-wide protest on November 15. Police and security guards prevented the protesters from leaving their homes. About 87 people were arrested and 11 remain in detention. The group’s most visible leader has gone into exile in Spain.

More Cubans than ever have access to the Internet and it has helped them communicate and organize. Many of those calling for change are young Internet savvy people hungry for reform. At one point during the July 11 protest, authorities blocked popular communication sources such as WhatsApp and Facebook, and they were not fully restored until two days later. The blockade led the United States to ask the Biden administration to find ways to bring the internet to the island.

Gonzalez said the administration had spent “an inordinate amount of time” examining the issue of internet connectivity and looked at what the Trump administration had done with the Cuba Internet task force it had set up. “There is no really easy and technical solution, and neither is the technology to have Internet connectivity, so we should focus on circumventing censorship.”

Tensions between Washington and Havana have increased recently, with the island’s government claiming the United States is trying to destabilize Cuba by paying and leading dissidents. In the wake of the protests, the Cuban government reiterated that the decades-long US embargo is mainly to blame for its economic woes.

For some Cuban Americans, the most important political issues are restrictions on travel and remittances. In 2019, Trump suspended flights from the United States to nine airports in Cuba, allowing travel to the Havana airport only. Western Union, which operated 407 sites across Cuba, was forced to shut them down after Trump banned remittances through his partner, the military company Fincimex. Biden pledged during his 2020 campaign that he would lift restrictions on travel and remittances.

Gonzalez did not say if and when these restrictions would be lifted and said the administration is not looking at these isolated restrictions. “We are looking at the whole policy,” he said.

The administration set up a remittances task force after the July protests to come up with “innovative options” to ensure that money sent to the island does not fall into the hands of the military.

“We have decided to continue the investigation,” he said, stressing that a significant number of Cubans are not receiving funds.

“How can we actually use remittances to support communities that don’t benefit? A lot of the focus has been on sanctioning individuals, so we will continue to sanction these individuals, ”Gonzalez said. “We are trying to promote a debate on what is clearly happening in Cuba, which is a regime that is afraid to give more rights and even to engage in a debate.

He also said the administration was taking steps to restart consular processing but did not offer a timeline. The U.S. Embassy downsized in 2017 following health incidents that affected employees and their families. Cubans must travel to Guyana to have their visas processed at the United States Embassy there. In September, the State Department began allowing diplomats in Cuba to be accompanied by adult family members.

Gonzalez said the reassignment process is taking time due to health incidents. “We want this to start and we are taking the steps to make it happen.”

When asked if governments have had any discussions, he said these were mostly “private” conversations about US offers of vaccines, oxygen and general humanitarian support during the Covid pandemic. 19 in progress.

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