Biden shows support for Cuban anti-government protesters

Cuban protesters are ‘bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights’, says US president

John Bowden
Monday 12 July 2021 17:08 BST
Thousands rally against government in Cuba over food shortages and high prices
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President Joe Biden issued a statement in support of anti-government protests in Cuba, and called on the Cuban government to respect the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

The statement followed a day of protests in the island nation, where demonstrators denounced worsening economic conditions in the country.

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime,” said the president.

“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected,” added Mr Biden.

The president would go on to urge Cuba’s leaders to not “enrich” themselves at the expense of its citizens, as the island’s economic situation worsens. Cuba’s economy declined by 11 per cent overall last year amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has yet to abate in the country as only 15 per cent of its citizens are fully vaccinated. The country began a mass vaccination campaign in May with its own vaccine, dubbed the Abdala vaccine, which uses three jabs and has been reported to be 92 per cent effective against the Covid-19 virus.

Protesters attacked state-owned shops and police vehicles in some areas, according to the BBC, and were met with riot police as well as thousands of pro-government demonstrators, who met a call from Cuba’s president to defend the country’s communist system from what he argued were US-sponsored attempts to destabilise the country.

“We Cubans know perfectly well that the US government is principally responsible for the current situation in Cuba. #Cuba and its streets belong to the revolutionaries,” charged Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, Cuba’s president, in a statement released by the foreign ministry.

Cuban officials have argued the island’s economic woes, including lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines produced in the US or Europe, are the fault of the longstanding US trade embargo.

Support for the protests was widespread among Cuban Americans, who rallied in Florida’s Palm Beach County on Sunday. Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including many from Florida where there is a sizeable population of Cuban Americans, also issued their own statements in defence of the demonstrations.

“For decades, Cuba’s dictatorship has used violence and repression to silence its people, rather than permit the free exercise of democracy and their basic social rights. This must end. The world’s eyes are on Cuba tonight and the dictatorship must understand we will not tolerate the use of brute force to silence the aspirations of the Cuban people,” said Sen Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“As I’ve said over the years, no one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom. Let us hear their voices. Listen to their cries of desperation. Support their demands by ensuring we do not perpetuate the regime’s decades of repression,” he continued.

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