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The Cuban People Need America’s Support, Not Empty Gestures

July 22, 2021

We are witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime moment in history on the streets of Cuba. This dangerous and high-risk quest by the Cuban people for a free, open, and prosperous society against a brutal dictatorship is reminiscent of so many others around the world, including our own founding.

While these protests mark a bold step for the Cuban people against communism, the Biden administration’s weak response is a national embarrassment.

During the previous administration, the world witnessed similar popular movements against tyranny. In each case, the United States responded decisively to hold oppressive regimes accountable and stand with the oppressed. This is how the world’s leading democracy must always act.

In November 2019, unprecedented protests broke out across Iran. The regime in Tehran responded with violence, killing more than 1,000 and unjustly imprisoning many more.

The Trump administration responded boldly. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo established a secure tip line through the Rewards for Justice program and asked Iranians to submit reports of human rights abuses. More than 35,000 tips were received, and the U.S. government was able to use this information to sanction Iranian officials responsible for abhorrent human rights violations. 

President Donald Trump later tweeted a message of support in Farsi to the long-suffering Iranian people. In a matter of hours, it became the most liked Farsi tweet in history. It was a message of hope and solidarity that resonated with Iranians, who were demanding moral support from the West. 

Then there were the popular protests in Venezuela. The Trump administration again pressured the repressive regime. Maduro was sanctioned along with corrupt Venezuelan officials and the regime experienced a loss in oil export revenue of nearly $11 billion.

The Trump administration at the same time stood up for the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people. Trump recognized Juan Guaidó as the interim president and spearheaded a global effort to encourage others to do the same. More than fifty countries joined our global campaign.

But now as the Cuban people rise up, the Biden administration is silent. The left-wing of the Democratic Party, which sympathizes with and embraces the regime’s repressive communism, is driving this administration’s policy. President Joe Biden has not announced any significant new actions to increase pressure on the regime or its corrupt officials. U.S. leadership is also missing around the world. We have not pressed for action at the United Nations or mounted a concerted international pressure campaign against the Cuban regime or those countries that continue to actively support it.

In fact, our federal government doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the magnitude of the moment. The Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, downplayed the protests, noting they were merely, “the Cuban people exercise[ing] their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths and medicine shortages.” Let one thing be clear: the protests in Cuba are a rejection of the oppressive, socialist agenda.

The protests are a poignant and urgent demand for freedom and democracy that are falling on deaf ears in the White House. Rather than downplaying this moment, we must act on it. The Cuban regime no longer has the backing of a strong power such as the Soviet Union as it did in the past. While China is heavily invested in the island, the relationship is nowhere near as deep as the USSR’s during the Cold War. Now is the time to press our advantage and support the Cuban people, rather than dismiss this movement and completely miss this moment.

President Biden is not leading the way. Sanctions are crucial against those who commit acts of violence against protestors or engage in censorship. A whole-of-government effort to restore internet access to the Cuban people is critical. The administration should work with allied and partnered nations to build an international coalition to actively support the democratic aspirations of Cubans. Many of our closest partners are also close economically with Cuba, like Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. The Biden administration is failing to leverage our economic partnerships with these nations to advance democracy on the island. We cannot allow our allies to sit this one out. The Biden administration must do something—anything—to encourage our friends to support the democratic demands of the Cuban people.

These actions won’t guarantee the downfall of the regime, but they will tip the balance toward freedom. When it comes to the noble fight for freedom against repression, the United States must always be on the side of freedom. The Biden administration needs to ditch the diplomatic platitudes, reject calls from the Left to support the socialist agenda, and unequivocally pledge our support to the Cuban people in their crusade against this brutal communist dictatorship, as we may never experience this opportunity again.

Claudia Tenney represents New York’s 22nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.