Several months after taking office, Biden has yet to deliver on his campaign pledge to reverse his predecessor’s policies and “return” to the full diplomatic ties established by former President Barack Obama.
The Biden administration’s lack of action in Cuba was highlighted this week after the Communist-ruled island witnessed its biggest protests in decades. An administration official confirmed that there are no changes on the horizon as the policy is still under review.
Biden promised in September 2020, during the campaign, that he would “try to reverse Trump’s failed policies that have harmed Cubans and their families,” but the current review is unlikely to result in a back to the politics of the Obama era. normalized relations with Havana, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The idea is that the Cuban government has shown no sign, in more than five years, of easing its political and economic repression of the Cuban people, which has dramatically narrowed the options of the Biden administration to normalize again. relationships – especially given Biden’s emphasis on human rights rights as a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Biden’s team is also wary of the political implications of making concessions in Havana, like Obama did, without getting anything in return.
Gonzalez added that “human rights will be a key factor in any conversation we may have with the regime.”
To that end, Biden’s team has focused on progressive measures such as easing restrictions on remittances Americans can send to relatives on the island – which were all but banned under Trump – and potentially reopening travel as a way to expose Cubans to Americans. ideals. Other more immediate relief and humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people are also being considered, as the administration tries to find ways to “let some air out of the pressure cooker” and defuse the situation. before it turns violent, said a person familiar with the thought.
A second senior administration official said the administration had “examined our Cuban policy in light of its impact on the political and economic well-being of the Cuban people.” Democracy and human rights are at the heart of this assessment ”. This official added that “we are following very closely the response of the Cuban government to the demonstrations and we call on it to refrain from all violence and repression against the peaceful demonstrators and to serve their people rather than to enrich themselves”.
A congressional adviser said discussions were underway with the administration over opening lines of communication with Cuban protesters and with members of the Cuban military in an attempt to defuse the situation and build a coalition of international allies who can send a united message that there will be repercussions if the government reacts violently to the protests. There have also been discussions of how the United States can help restore and expand internet access to Cubans as the regime continues its blackouts, the aide said.
“The Biden administration has been consistent in its calls for the promotion of democracy and human rights in Cuba,” the second senior administration official said, “including denouncing the abuses of the authoritarian regime in Cuba. Cuba and pushing for reforms. This is nothing new. “
Juan Cruz, who was the NSC’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere under Trump, said the United States risked being “beaten up by the Cubans” if it rushed to revert to the policies of the era. Obama in the midst of the protests. Some in the administration are hoping this new wave of dissent could create a split in the regime that the United States could then capitalize on, Cruz said. But American involvement could backfire and exacerbate tensions even further.
“It won’t be a ‘Cuban spring’,” he said. “The administration is not going to go back to the Obama era on this. “
Whether Biden will ultimately deliver on his campaign promises remains to be seen. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is a staunch opponent of Obama’s policies and the powerful chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, hinted Monday that he believes Biden could not.
“I think the president had time to review the actual policies under President Obama and all of the overtures made by President Obama, which were one-sided, one-sided in terms of concessions, turned out to create absolutely no change at all. ‘inside Cuba,’ Menendez told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “So the result of that, I think, is that the Biden administration looked and said, ‘Wait a minute. It didn’t seem to work. “”
Menendez and Biden spoke on a brief phone call on Monday, an official said.
Biden also told reporters he would speak more publicly about the ongoing crises in Cuba and Haiti later this week. A senior official said he had no plans for an official speech, but will likely discuss it more as the United States collects intelligence.
The way Biden navigates Cuba could have political implications, given that he lost Florida to Trump in the 2020 election after the former president repeatedly claimed Biden would turn the United States into a ” socialist country ”if he won, a message that resonated with Cuban Americans.
While changing Cuba’s policy was not among its “top foreign policy priorities,” according to its key contributors, the recent protests have sparked new conversations about it within the West Wing.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets over the weekend to protest the lack of food and medicine as the country goes through a severe economic crisis made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and US sanctions.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this protest in a very, very long time – quite frankly, ever,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Monday.
The president said the United States “stands firmly with the Cuban people as they assert their universal rights,” and said the Cuban people “demand their release from an authoritarian regime.”
He called on the Cuban government to “refrain from any violence or any attempt to silence the voice of the Cuban people”.
Biden also told reporters at the White House on Monday that his team was closely following developments in Haiti following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. He was killed last week in his private residence in the capital Port-au-Prince, and Haiti’s first lady Martine Moïse was also shot dead in the attack and evacuated to a Miami hospital to be there. neat.
Biden said on Monday that the United States was “ready to provide assistance” to Cuba and Haiti, but it is unclear what form that will take.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.