Advocates for regime change in Cuba delivered to President Biden on Thursday a petition with over 71,000 signatures urging the White House to take more aggressive steps to help topple the island’s longstanding Communist government.
Before hand-delivering the petition to the White House, demonstrators gathered in front of the Cuban Embassy in downtown Washington and pressed U.S. policymakers to take a more hands-on approach and to capitalize on the aftershocks of major pro-freedom protests that shook Havana last month. Specifically, they urged Mr. Biden to speed up efforts to deliver full, unfiltered internet access for the Cuban people.
Hours later in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP lawmakers held a separate rally and echoed that call. Taken together, the two demonstrations put new pressure on Mr. Biden and fellow Democrats to seize what critics of the Havana regime say could potentially be a once-in-a-generation opening for change.
The Washington event, organized by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), brought together prominent Cuban-Americans who denounced Communism and said that they see glimmers of hope for their family and friends back home.
“We have to keep up the good fight,” said Sergio de Paz, head of the Cuban exile group Cubanos Desterrados.
“They’re not asking for food. They’re not asking for vaccines,” said the 83-year-old Cuban native, who became a U.S. citizen in 1963 and now lives in Miami. “They’re asking for freedom. That’s what we don’t have.”
Another Cuban-American activist, Rafael Garcia, flew to Washington on Thursday morning from his home in Lafayette, Louisiana. The restaurant owner who escaped Cuba and came to America as a political refugee 23 years ago said there is “hope for my people” amid the recent anti-communist demonstrations, the most widespread in decades.
“Our people are starving because our land doesn’t produce,” he said. “Our factories are closed already because of the system that we have. Communism fails everywhere. It fails in Cuba. And we cannot support 12 million people on charity, on the money that we can send to our family.”
“My people are dying,” Mr. Garcia said.
Critics say that Mr. Biden has missed a key opportunity to back the pro-freedom movement in Cuba, especially in the days immediately after the major July 11 demonstrations. In the weeks since those protests, the Cuban government led by President Miguel Diaz-Canel has cracked down on demonstrators in a bid to put down dissent, re-establish a hard grip over the population, and end any hope for regime change.
Mr. Diaz-Canel took over in 2019 after Raul Castro, brother of longtime Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, stepped down.
While the Biden administration has put new sanctions on Havana and joined 20 other democracies in condemning the crackdown, some observers say the administration has tools at its disposal that it simply hasn’t used. One of those tools, they argue, is taking more aggressive steps to provide internet access for the Cuban people, to better organize and would facilitate the spread of information uncensored by Communist Party leaders.
“Just restore internet service to Cuba,” said TFP President C. Preston Noel III when asked what specifically the Biden administration could do.
Following a meeting with Cuban-American leaders last week, Mr. Biden said the White House is working to do just that.
“We’re increasing direct support for the Cuban people by pursuing every option available to provide internet access to help the Cuban people bypass the censorship that’s being mandatorily imposed,” the president said.
The joint statement signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and nearly two dozen other foreign ministers late last month also calls for the “full restoration of Internet access, which allows economies and societies to thrive.” But many of Cuba‘s Caribbean and Latin American neighbors, who have been critical of the U.S. economic embargo on the island, notably did not join the effort.
Still, Republicans say the administration can and should do more. At Thursday’s event in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, Mr. DeSantis urged the president to get more aggressive.
“We have an opportunity … to make a difference. And it requires leadership from the White House, it requires the president to show and take tangible steps to stand with the people of Cuba,” the governor said, according to Florida media reports.