“Communism is a universally bankrupt system, and I don’t see socialism as a very useful substitute.” President Joe Biden made the calculated preamble on Thursday (15), before responding to reporters on possible US actions in light of the crisis and social upheaval in Cuba.
So far, Biden has aligned himself much more with Donald Trump and the tradition of Washington, which treats Havana as the fuel of electoral rhetoric, than with Barack Obama, who broke new ground by seeing the island as an opportunity. of strategic diplomacy.
The US president said he was considering measures to help the Cuban people – who took to the streets to ask for food, medicine and freedom of expression – but felt that “different circumstances and guarantees” would be necessary to put them into practice.
The script makes it clear that the protests, the largest in Cuba in recent decades, have sparked narratives on the island in the United States, but are unlikely to have a major impact on US politics. .
Biden called Manuel Díaz-Canel’s regime authoritarian, said Cuba is a failed state that represses its citizens, but showed no signs of making significant changes to White House foreign policy by compared to the economic blockades that have suffocated the island since 1960.
“[Liberar] the ability to [cubanos que vivem nos EUA] sending money to Cuba, for example, we’re not going to do that now, because the point is, the regime is very likely to confiscate these remittances or most of them, ”Biden said .
The American president has proposed two aid specific to the island: to restore the Internet cut off by the Cuban government after the acts – “if there are technological conditions for that” – and to donate vaccines against Covid-19, provided that an international organization guarantees the distribution and application of the doses.
With this posture, Biden navigates the usual dispute between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to Cuba, aware that the debate leaves little room for nuance and that his actions reverberate in Florida, one of the most important states. for the race to the White House.
150 km from Havana, the region concentrates a high number of dissidents, sensitive to anti-socialist rhetoric and the only group of Latinos who tend to vote mainly for Republicans.
In 2020, the anti-Cuba rhetoric was one of the factors that pushed Trump to expand his base of support in Florida, where he beat Biden by 51.2% to 47.9% – four years earlier, the Republican had overtaken Hillary Clinton by just 1.2 percentage points. .
In view of the more conservative vote, the Republicans call the Democrats socialist and say that any aid to the island could be a way to save the Cuban dictatorship. On the other hand, Democrats are divided on how to respond to the crisis.
While moderates defend the continuation of the blockade, progressives call for an end to sanctions, but many still find it difficult to condemn the regime for fear of further alienating voters on the left.
The arena for voting in Florida is very fluid, and each year a new element can be decisive for a candidate to win in the state – although among young Cuban Americans the debate over socialism is no longer the same. interest only in older generations.
Representative of the youngest and most progressive Democratic wing, MK Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made the party’s strongest protest on Cuba, four days after the protests began. Thursday evening, he released a statement saying he sympathized with the Cuban people and condemned “the undemocratic actions carried out by President Díaz-Canel”.
“Suppression of the media, speeches and demonstrations are disgusting violations of civil rights,” said AOC, as it is called. The MP added that the US sanctions on the island “are contributing to Cuban suffering” and that she “openly rejects” the defense of the embargo by the Biden administration.
Three days earlier, Senator Bernie Sanders, linked to the Democratic left, had declared that “everyone has the right to demonstrate and to live in a democratic society”, but it was not so affirmed on the repression of the dictatorship against the demonstrators. On social media, he only called on the Cuban government to respect the opposition and avoid violence – and called for an end to the embargo on the island.
Progressive protests have been the watchword of critics of moderate Florida Democrats. They say they think Biden should use the new context as a “golden opportunity” to take a firm stand against the Cuban regime and win the vote of Latinos who have distanced themselves from the party.
“We have to be a beacon of hope. There are people in Cuba protesting with the American flag in their hands, this has never happened. We have to understand the moment in which we live,” said the senator. of state Democrat Annette Taddeo in an interview. with Politico. It represents a neighborhood conquered by Trump last year.
Among Florida Republicans, the turmoil has taken on even more intense contours, with Cubans exiled on the streets of Miami in support of the protests, and the city’s mayor, Francis Suarez, saying Biden should consider military options on the island.
During the campaign, Biden pledged to reverse some of the Cuban blockade measures reinforced by Trump. The Democrat went so far as to say that he saw them as harmful to the people and that they were doing nothing to promote democracy and human rights, but he did not show that he was planning to follow through the paths of Obama, which he served for eight years, so early.
The first black president in the history of the United States launched a process of rapprochement with Cuba and tried to end more than 50 years of diplomatic disruption and hostilities. Obama visited Havana in 2016 – the first White House occupant to do so in 88 years – lifted restrictions on movement between the territories, relaxed some economic blockade sanctions and removed Cuba from the list of countries who Americans say support terrorism.
The whole plan was conceived without consultation with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, son of Cuban exiles and in favor of the blockade. He remains in office, but this time he is well informed: Biden chose him as the White House’s first adviser on Cuba.