A senior National Security Council official told NBC News on Tuesday that nationwide protests attracting an estimated 187,000 people in Cuba on July 11 prompted President Joe Biden to reconsider campaign promises to restore predecessor Barack Obama’s pro-regime concessions policy.
Obama used his power to erase many of the safeguards in place under what is commonly known as the Cuban embargo, including lifting key sanctions, allowing an exception to the embargo known as “people to people” travel, funding the regime with cruise revenue, and removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list despite overt ties to Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and other terrorist actors. Obama also repealed a policy known as “wet foot/dry foot” that granted legal status in America to Cuban refugees that made it to U.S. shores, forcing them to take alternate routes dominated by Mexican human traffickers.
President Donald Trump undid much of the damage, including halting cruises from the U.S. to Cuba, restoring Cuba’s terror nation status, and ending “people to people” travel. Trump’s policies greatly limited the Cuban regime’s financial reach and, thus, its ability to repress its people. As a candidate, Biden vowed to “go back” to Obama’s failed policies but has yet to do so, frustrating both the Cuban Communist Party and its enablers in America.
The lack of any Cuba policy from the Biden administration — effectively leaving Trump’s in place — is a direct result of Cuba’s anti-communist protests in July, the National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere, Juan Gonzalez, told NBC on Tuesday.
“After July 11, we hit the pause button. Even those Cuban-Americans that were pro-engagement said, ‘We need to wait — we need to look at this moment and figure out how we move forward from here,’” NBC News quoted Gonzalez as saying. Cuban-Americans are overwhelmingly against “engagement” with, or the enabling of, the Castro regime.
“There’s a rule before July 11 and after July 11,” Gonzalez asserted, claiming that Biden “feels very strongly about matters of human rights” and thus did not feel the time was ripe for a return to Obama’s policies.
Among the issues debated, NBC News noted, is the limiting of remittances to the island under Trump. The Castro regime’s military, which it primarily uses to attack and silence dissidents, controls the entirety of the remittance infrastructure in the country and profits directly from it.
“How can we actually use remittances to support communities that aren’t being benefited by this? A lot of the focus has been on sanctioning individuals, so we’re going to continue to sanction those individuals,” Gonzalez told NBC News. “We’re trying to promote a debate about what is clearly happening in Cuba, which is a regime that is afraid of giving greater rights and even engaging in a debate.”
Gonzalez’s remarks indicate that Cuban protesters, when convening in large numbers, have the power to deter the implementation of policies that hurt them.
The July 11 protests were far from the only ones on the island. Groups like the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have spent over a decade engaging in regular, often weekly protests demanding freedom for political prisoners and the right to freely assemble in peace. The protests attracted much larger numbers than the typical assemblies, however — an estimated 187,000 people in nearly every municipality on the island demanding freedom from the 62-year-old regime.
In solidarity, large groups of Cuban Americans and allied protesters convened for weeks in front of the White House urging Biden to act to save lives on the island.
The Castro regime responded to the protests with violence, unleashing its special “Black Beret” forces onto civilian neighborhoods for door-to-door raids to find and disappear protesters. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported in August that it had documented over 1,000 disappearances or arrests of civilians following July 11, warning the number was likely a very small percentage of the true toll, as the government had severely limited internet access to cut communication by protesters with the outside world.
Many of the victims of the Castro regime’s violence were minors, and a significant portion of them not even protesters — just individuals who chose to record some of the protests or who happened to be near one at the wrong time. One of these individuals, 17-year-old Gabriela Zequeira Hernández, told the dissident outlet Cubanet following her arrest that police detained her while leaving a hair salon for being near a protest, then proceeded to abuse her for being a “counter-revolutionary.” The abuse included an invasive strip search and threatening to hand her over to prisoners to be gang-raped, she said.
The outlet ADN Cuba published photos in July showing China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) — a key force for suppressing pro-democracy protests in Tibet and Hong Kong — appearing to train Cuban “black berets.”
The protests have continued nationwide. On November 15, the families of July’s political prisoners and a large contingent of clergy members from both the suppressed Catholic and Evangelical Christian communities on the island took to the streets peacefully, clad in white and often carrying flowers as a symbol of protest. The regime again responded with violence, primarily with the use of “acts of repudiation” — government-orchestrated mob violence in front of the homes of known dissidents — to keep potential protesters trapped indoors.