Statement on the July 30 Meeting between President Biden and Cuban American Leaders
WASHINGTON D.C. — On July 30th, the Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, Ricardo Herrero, was among eleven Cuban American leaders invited to meet with President Biden to discuss his administration’s response to the situation in Cuba in the wake of the historic July 11th protests.
We thank the President for his time, for the opportunity to share our views, and for his administration’s commitment to the Cuban people by addressing the island’s ongoing crisis through a “whole-of-government approach.” We encourage his administration to continue to respond to recent events with a sense of urgency and look forward to the prompt reopening of remittance flows, the expansion of internet access and the restaffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
We also commend the Biden administration for levying targeted sanctions on those responsible for the repression of peaceful protesters on, and since, July 11th. Targeted sanctions against Cuban government officials send a strong message that their human rights abuses will not be tolerated, even if their practical effect is blunted by the blanket sanctions of the U.S. embargo that already make it unlikely that Cuban officials have significant assets in the United States.
Yet, as the Biden administration seeks to hold the Cuban government accountable, we can and must do more to empower the Cuban people. In fact, we maintain that strengthening the Cuban people, more so than punishing their government, is the key to meaningful change in Cuba.
This is why we ask the Biden administration to empower the American and Cuban American private and NGO sectors to be the driving force in extending support to the Cuban people at this precarious juncture. Not only is it often more efficient to enable private actors to lead the way, but it also undermines the Cuban government’s Cold War-era narrative that their struggle is against the U.S. government, when the truth is that their present-day struggle is with their own people, both at home and abroad.
Covid-related assistance from the United States can help save lives and stem a pandemic that has overwhelmed the Cuban healthcare system. To that end, we ask the Biden administration to lift all restrictions and licensing requirements on donations of food, medicine, and medical supplies to Cuba, thus enabling churches and other NGOs to quickly mobilize.
Secure internet access is indeed crucial to providing Cubans with the unfettered flow of information they deserve and the tools to mobilize for peaceful change. However, there are immediate, practical steps the U.S. government can take to improve the quality of internet access on the island. These include allowing U.S.-based firms to provide cloud-based services like online payment processing and subscription-based platforms in Cuba. Not only are they powerful tools for private sector and civil society development; they also can help get money—including remittances—directly into the hands of the Cuban people.
Finally, open travel remains the best way for Cuban Americans and Americans to serve as ambassadors of our values and provide direct assistance to the Cuban people. Thus, we ask the Biden administration to reinstate travel to all airport destinations in Cuban provinces as Covid-19 restrictions allow.
Ultimately, the best way to “stand with the Cuban people” is for Americans and Cuban Americans to be present on the ground in Cuba. We look forward to an ongoing, fruitful dialogue with the Biden administration in which we intend to continue pressing this case.
(Photo credit: Reuters)