The Biden administration expressed concern Monday after sweeping anti-government protests in Cuba were forcibly dissolved at the direction of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez.
Sunday’s protests, the largest the communist island has seen since the 1990s, come amid widespread frustration over a crippled economy and severe food shortages. The coronavirus pandemic is pushing the nation’s health-care system to its limit, as well.
“The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like these protests in a long long time if, quite frankly ever,” President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House on Monday.
“The U.S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba,” the president added.
In a statement earlier on Monday, Biden called on the Cuban regime to “hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment.”
President Díaz-Canel Bermudez said in a national address on Sunday that his regime was “prepared to do anything,” to quell the protests, according to a report from The Washington Post. “We will be battling in the streets,” he said, adding that the United States was in part to blame for the widespread discontent in Cuba.
On Monday, he appeared alongside members of his government and blamed U.S. trade sanctions for hampering Cuba’s growth.
Biden’s top diplomat clapped back during a briefing at the State Department by saying that the Cuban people are “deeply tired of the repression that has gone on for far too long.”
“Tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, tired of the lack of an adequate food and of course, an adequate response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken added.
“That is what we are hearing and seeing in Cuba, and that is a reflection of the Cuban people, not of the United States or any other outside actor,” he said.
Over the weekend, national security advisor Jake Sullivan condemned any threat of violence against peaceful protestors writing on Twitter, “The U.S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.”
Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”
The discontent among Cubans sparked protests in Miami as well as in Spain and Mexico.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called on the Biden administration to end the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.
“The truth is that if one wanted to help Cuba, the first thing that should be done is to suspend the blockade of Cuba as the majority of countries in the world are asking,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference.
“That would be a truly humanitarian gesture,” he added. “No country in the world should be fenced in, blockaded.”
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