RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The White House said Monday (11) that the unprecedented anti-government protests in Cuba were “spontaneous” and denied that the embargo imposed by the United States exacerbated the economic crisis that has spurred them, but assured that it is evaluating how to help the Cuban people “directly”.
At her daily press briefing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she had no announcement to make at the moment about a possible change in U.S. President Joe Biden’s Cuba policy.
“(But) obviously, given the protests that have occurred in the last 24 and 48 hours, we are evaluating how we can directly help the people of Cuba,” the spokeswoman said.
In April, Psaki assured that changing Cuba policy was not a priority for Biden, even though his predecessor, Donald Trump, pushed numerous measures to reverse the “thaw” with the island that hit the Cuban economy hard.
Asked Monday whether, in light of the protests, Biden does now see Cuba policy as a priority, the spokeswoman avoided answering with a “yes” and limited herself to indicating that Washington will closely follow what happens on the island and “will seek to provide support to the people of Cuba.”
Biden’s government showed just three weeks ago that it had no special interest in revoking Trump’s policy, by voting against the annual resolution condemning the US embargo, instead of abstaining, as did the representative of former President Barack Obama (2009-2017).
On Sunday’s protests in Cuba, Psaki said that “everything indicates” that they were “spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the government’s economic mismanagement and repression.”
“These protests were inspired by the harsh reality of daily life in Cuba, not by anyone in another country,” Psaki added in response to accusations of US interference.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has accused “mercenary people paid by the US government” of organizing the protests and attributed much of the country’s serious humanitarian and health crisis to the US trade embargo on the island.
Questioned on the matter, Psaki argued that the US embargo imposed 60 years ago “allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba” and that Washington “expedites any request” it receives to “export medical or humanitarian supplies” to the island, in addition to agricultural products.
“It’s just inaccurate,” she added regarding those who attribute all of the island’s economic and health problems to the embargo.
Psaki commented on the situation in Cuba hours after Biden himself weighed in on the protests, which he described as “a call for freedom” in “courageous” exercise of “fundamental rights”.
“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to listen to its people and serve their needs at this key moment rather than enriching themselves,” Biden said.
Sunday’s protests were the strongest to occur in Cuba since the so-called “maleconazo” of August 1994, and come with the country mired in a severe economic and health crisis, with the pandemic spiraling out of control and severe shortages of food, medicine, and other basic goods, as well as routine long power outages.