US President Joe Biden said Thursday he was studying ways to restore Internet access in Cuba, a country he called a “failed state”.
“Communism is a failed system, a universally failed system. And I don’t see socialism as a very useful substitute, but that’s another story,” Biden said at a press conference while visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.
Last Sunday (11), Cuba saw the biggest protests against the government in 60 years.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the country was suffering from “media terrorism”. For him, there is a campaign on social networks against his government.
Biden explained that the United States was considering how to help Cubans bypass internet restrictions imposed by the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel.
“Cuba is unfortunately a failed state and is cracking down on its citizens,” said the President of the United States. “They cut off access to the Internet. We are assessing whether we have the technological capacity to restore that access,” he added.
The United States has long been critical of internet restrictions around the world, especially in China. But their cyber operations often have more to do with security threats than securing access.
One idea put forward by experts is to send balloons with mobile wi-fi, similar to what is done in the event of a natural disaster.
According to journalists from the AFP agency in Havana, Cuba relaxed internet restrictions on Wednesday (14). However, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and messaging services such as WhatsApp remained blocked, at least until Thursday.
Access to the network was only possible in public parks that offer Wi-Fi or in homes via Nauta-Hogar and ADSL services, which many Cubans cannot afford due to their high cost.
The Cuban government has severely attacked the #SOSCuba campaign which has invaded social networks. According to President Días-Canel, this is “media terrorism”.
“Social networks are totally aggressive, calling for murders, lynchings, attacks against people, especially those who identify as revolutionaries,” he criticized.
Most reports from the island describe the protests as peaceful and spontaneous. Cuban authorities confirmed the death of one person, a 36-year-old man, on the outskirts of Havana on Thursday after a confrontation with officers outside a police station.
Sunday’s protests, which followed Monday in a smaller proportion and with a strong police presence in the streets, took place against a backdrop of a serious economic crisis that is added to the health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cuba is developing its own covid-19 vaccine, Sovereign 2, amid rising infections, power cuts and shortages of food and medicine.
“There is a covid problem in Cuba,” Biden said. “I would be prepared to donate significant quantities of vaccines if, in fact, they guaranteed that an international organization would administer them, so that the average citizen would have access to these vaccines,” he added.
Biden was the vice president of Barack Obama, who led a historic opening to Cuba and visited Havana.
Obama’s successor Donald Trump has rolled back some important measures, such as allowing US citizens to send remittances and tourist travel.
In his campaign for the White House, Biden said he wanted to ease restrictions on Cuba.
But on Thursday, the US president signaled that he would not allow remittances at this time. “It is very likely that the regime will confiscate these shipments or most of them,” he said.
Even if Biden wants to change course, he would face political obstacles, including within the party itself. Democrats control Congress by narrow margins, and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a Cuban American who advocates firm action against Havana.
Support for the Cuban government
While calling on the Cuban government to release detainees during the protests and fully restore internet access, several former left-wing Latin American leaders expressed their support for Havana in a virtual meeting on Thursday.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez held a conference call attended by former Presidents Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Ernesto Samper (Colombia). Also present were Mexico’s Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Maximiliano Reyes, and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcenas.
Before speaking to them, Rodríguez reiterated his administration’s thesis that Sunday’s protests were generated by a “politico-didactic” operation by the United States.
The Biden government categorically denies these accusations.