US President Joe Biden will discuss applying new sanctions to the Cuban regime when he meets with Cuban-American leaders at the White House on Friday, according to a White House official.
The meeting takes place weeks after Cuba saw the largest protests in decades when thousands took to the streets to protest the lack of food and medicine as the country undergoes a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic and sanctions from the United States.
Meanwhile, Democrats are also under pressure to take a tougher line against the Cuban regime amid former President Donald Trump’s 2020 inroads among Cuban Americans in Florida.
Biden is also expected to discuss his administration’s efforts to establish Internet access for the Cuban people, the official said.
The president will meet Friday with Felice Gorordo, executive president of eMerge Americas and co-founder of Roots of Hope; Yotuel Romero, former singer of the Cuban hip hop group Orishas and author of Patria and Vida, the song that has become an anthem for the protesters; Ana Sofia Peláez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project and former Miami Mayor Manny Díaz, according to the official.
The Biden administration last week sanctioned a key Cuban official and a government special forces unit known as Black Boines for human rights abuses in the wake of the historic protests. The sanctions the president is expected to discuss on Friday would be independent of these previously announced sanctions.
Sanctions on Cuba
Last week’s sanctions came after Cuban-American groups and some members of Congress criticized the administration for not taking a tough enough approach to the Cuban regime.
The president issued a statement condemning the mass arrests and “mock trials” of the protesters. Biden said in a statement at the time that the actions were “just the beginning” and that the United States “would continue to sanction those responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people.”
The president has also said that his administration was working with civil society organizations and the private sector “to provide Internet access to the Cuban people who bypass the regime’s censorship efforts.”
The president has also directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba, or the practice of Americans transferring money to their Cuban relatives, to determine the ways in which those residing in the United States can send money to the country.
The Cuban government controls the financial sector and all communications on the island, and Biden has said he believes that under current circumstances remittances would end up in the hands of the regime.
Bypassing the government to send money or to improve and expand Internet access is a challenge that other US administrations have tried and failed to overcome, but the issue has grown in urgency in the wake of widespread and historic protests.
Biden’s policies on Cuba
Biden said during his presidential campaign that he would try to reverse Trump-era policies on Cuba that he said have “inflicted harm on Cubans and their families.” But Biden’s review of these policies is ongoing, and people familiar with the discussions tell Citizen Free Press that the review is unlikely to result in a return to the Obama-era policy of normalized relations with Havana.
The Cuban government has shown no signs in recent years of easing its political and economic repression of the Cuban people, severely reducing the Biden administration’s options to return to normalized ties.
Democrats in South Florida have been privately and publicly urging their party leaders to embrace the protests against Cuba’s communist regime. These Democrats believe that supporting the Cuban people could help the party regain ground with the state’s diverse Hispanic voters, nearly half of whom voted for Trump in 2020, a nearly 10-point change from four years earlier.