Since July 11, tens of thousands of Cubans in cities and towns across the island nation have been protesting against the oppression of the communist regime that has banned such demonstrations for almost sixty years. On July 12, President Biden issued a weak one-paragraph statement of support for them, saying that Americans stand with them and asking the regime of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to hear and serve its people.
If only Mr. Biden had meant what he said. As we’ll see in a moment, his administration’s actions prove all too clearly that he didn’t.
Cubans are protesting against the regime because of the scarcity of food, frequent hours-long interruptions of electricity, the lack of medical services, and the regime’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The protests have been peaceful, but the regime’s responses have not.
In response to these protests, Mr. Diaz-Canel has ordered troops and faithful “revolutionaries” into the streets. Troops have shot at protesters, killing at least one and wounding others. About one hundred fifty have been “disappeared.” Those “faithful” have beaten protesters with fists and clubs. The regime, seeking to cut off all news coming from the country, has cut off all internet services (including social media) which the protesters used to organize.
Many of the protesters are young people to whom Fidel Castro’s revolution is ancient history. They sometimes chant “we are not afraid” and carry American flags as proud symbols of freedom. They may fail in overthrowing the regime, but they are nevertheless dangerous because their movement can grow quickly if they get US support.
Sadly, Mr. Biden doesn’t have the counsel of my late friend and prominent Cuban-American, Jose Sorzano. He served as deputy UN ambassador to the great Jeanne Kirkpatrick during the Reagan administration.
Ambassador Sorzano could have explained to Mr. Biden the nature of the regime’s economic controls over the people of Cuba. As he once explained to me, the Cuban communist economy is summed up in five words: “No hay, no te toca.” That is, “There isn’t any. It’s not your turn.” Cubans have to stand in line to buy milk, bread, or meat or wait for buses to take them to and from their jobs. Deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic are surging for lack of vaccinations and medical care.
The oppression of the Cuban people goes far beyond the communist regime-imposed food shortages. Videos of police beating protesters have surfaced despite the regime’s internet blockade. Police have been rounding up protest leaders. Torturing political prisoners is routine.
Mr. Biden’s team has reacted strongly to the Cuban protests in a way most helpful to the communist regime.
Mr. Biden’s open border policy extends to everyone of every nationality except Cubans (perhaps because they might become Republicans). Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorkas said no Cuban illegal immigrants would be allowed to come to the United States. “Allow me to be clear. If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.” He said there would be no US entry even for those who can prove a “well-founded fear of persecution or torture.”
Mr. Majorkas’s position is flatly illegal. A well-founded fear of persecution or torture is one of the legal grounds for obtaining political asylum in the US. He further threatened to arrest those US boat owners who try to help Cubans flee the island.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Majorkas should be ashamed of their actions, but they are politically incapable of feeling that shame.
It apparently shocks some US media, politicians, and pressure groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement that many Cuban protesters carry American flags during their marches. BLM blames the Cubans’ plight on the US embargo, saying the US government’s “inhumane treatment of Cubans” has brought the island to this crisis.
The embargo was established by law in 1961. To end it, as Cong. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fl) Tweeted, the Cuban government has to free all political prisoners, legalize all political parties, labor unions, and a free press and schedule free multi-party elections. The Cuban regime won’t do any of those things because they would end its ability to oppress the population.
Rather than support the Cuban protesters, Mr. Biden is more comfortable with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s invitation last week to the UN Human Rights Council to come to the United States to “investigate” the human rights of African-Americans and the alleged abuse of police power against them. Cuba, along with Russia, China, Pakistan, Libya, and Venezuela, are members of the UNHRC. That “investigation” is a mockery of US law and the Constitution.
It would be easy for Mr. Biden to reverse the hypocrisy of his administration’s policy toward Cuban refugees. He needs to speak out for Cuban freedom and allow Cuban refugees to benefit from his open border policy. If possible, he should restore internet service to Cuba to allow the world to witness communist oppression.
Mr. Biden should ask Congress to pass a resolution condemning the Diaz-Canel regime’s oppression and demanding freedom for all Cubans.
Mr. Biden will do none of those things. America has always stood for freedom and against oppression, but Mr. Biden is evidently unwilling to do so.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”