HAVANA, Aug 2 (Reuters) – The United States has doubled its firmness and sanctions against Cuba after historic protests on the communist-ruled island last month and has said it will seek support for the protesters.
But many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region still marked by Washington’s support for coups during the Cold War and which has shifted to the left in recent years, are asking it to back down instead.
President Joe Biden called Cuba a “failed state” following the July 11-12 protests against an economic crisis and restrictions on freedoms. His administration imposed new sanctions on those who suppressed the protesters and promised the politically important Cuban-American community that other actions would be forthcoming, such as efforts to help Cubans bypass “censorship.”
While the new sanctions are largely symbolic, they suggest that a return to a period of detente under former President Barack Obama is not forthcoming.
The right-wing governments of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras joined the United States last week in issuing a statement condemning the mass arrests and calling for the complete restoration of internet access disturbed.
Still, only 20 foreign ministers around the world joined in signing the letter, signaling how relatively isolated Washington is over its Cuban policies, analysts said. Even US allies like Canada who condemned the Cuban crackdown and supported protesters’ right to free speech did not sign.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s left allies in Latin America and other Caribbean island nations have focused their response on the US embargo’s contribution to the country’s current humanitarian crisis, urging Washington to lift the sanctions. Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have sent aid.
Some countries in the region have also warned of US interference in Cuba’s internal affairs.
These regional divisions surfaced last week when the Organization of American States had to postpone a meeting on the human rights situation in Cuba over objections from more than a dozen member states.
“Any discussion could only satisfy the political hawks in view of the American midterm elections where winning South Florida with the support of Cuban exiles would be a price,” wrote the Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to of the OAS, Ronald Sanders, in a column published on the digital platform Caribbean News Global.
“The task of the OAS should be to promote peaceful and cooperative relations in the hemisphere, not to fuel divisions and conflicts.
He had sent a letter on behalf of 13 countries of the Caribbean Community or CARICOM – which although small, represents an important voting bloc in the OAS – urging the body to reconsider the “unproductive” meeting, while other countries sent similar missives.
REJECTION OF THE OAS, FOREIGN INTEGRATION
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last month that the OAS should be replaced “by a truly autonomous body, not anyone’s lackey”, sentiments echoed by Argentine President Alberto Fernandez.
He also said he believed Biden needed to make a decision about the Cuban embargo given that “almost every country in the world” was against it, while Fernandez said he did not belong to any other country in the world. decide what the Cubans should do.
Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia have all moved to the left in recent years, while Peru voted for a socialist leader last month and Chile and Brazil appear poised to move left in elections. planned this year and next.
“We appreciate the countries that have stood up for Latin American and Caribbean dignity,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who accused US-backed counterrevolutionaries of being behind the protests after years open US funding for democratic programs on the island.
The president of the OAS Permanent Council described objections to the Cuban meeting as particularly unusual.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said he was “deeply disappointed” that the OAS meeting did not take place, adding: “The peoples of the Americas have the right to hear from the Inter-American Commission of human rights on the situation in Cuba ”.
“We will continue to work within the OAS to push for democracy and human rights in Cuba and the Americas and are confident that this briefing will indeed take place in the coming days.
William LeoGrande, professor of government at the American University in Washington, said the problem was that the OAS had, under Secretary General Luis Almagro, “taken a strident partisan stance fully aligned with American policy.”
Biden inherited a regional foreign policy from former US President Donald Trump focused primarily on Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, which had alienated much of Latin America, said LeoGrande, noting that the poll of The opinion of the Latinbarometer showed a sharp decline in the image of the United States. .
The OAS General Secretariat declined to comment while the State Department spokesperson said that “Almagro’s leadership in supporting democracy and respect for human rights in the Americas” brought the OAS back to its original purpose.
Biden, a Democrat, had promised during his presidential campaign to ease some of the sanctions against Cuba hardened by his predecessor Donald Trump, a Republican, giving hope for a return to the relaxation of the Obama era.
But analysts say the protests have complicated his wiggle room, especially after performing more poorly than expected with voters in South Florida’s anti-Communist Cuban-American community, which backed Trump’s harsh policies towards La Havana and helped him win the presidential election. State of the election battlefield.
The Democratic National Committee launched a digital ad campaign in Florida last week highlighting “Biden’s commitment to the Cuban people and his condemnation of communism as a failing system.”
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick Editing by Alistair Bell
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