How far will the United States go to intervene in Cuba?

When hundreds of protesters in Cuba rallied last week against food and medical shortages, US policymakers responded the only way they knew how. Although the deteriorating economic situation is largely the result of deliberate US sanctions, made worse by the pandemic, lawmakers on both sides have used the protests to advocate for regime change, calling on the US government to intervene. .

Representative Val Demings, a Florida Democrat candidate for Senator Marco Rubio’s mid-term next year, said the White House “must act quickly.” At least one Democrat who has advocated the normalization of US-Cuban relations, Representative Kathy Castor, appeared to switch sides amid the protests, calling for a “peaceful transfer of power” to Cuba. Some Republican officials have made more specific suggestions. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez urged Biden to continue the military intervention, saying airstrikes are an option that must “be explored and cannot be simply dismissed as an option that is not on the table.” .

Asked by The nation on calls for US military intervention, and more specifically on whether the US should carry out airstrikes on Cuba, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, one of the biggest hawks in Congress, smiled and said replied, “No comment. “

While Florida Senator Rick Scott did not indicate whether he supported the airstrikes, in a statement to The nation he called on Biden to “take decisive action,” including new sanctions. He described the island nation as a potential danger. “This regime has repeatedly threatened the United States, working hand in hand with our adversaries like Communist China and Iran. If the illegitimate Cuban regime commits a hostile act against the United States, we must respond appropriately, ”said Scott.

Last month, the United Nations General Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority for the 29th consecutive time to call on the US government to lift its 60-year embargo on Cuba, a harsh economic blockade the country says is an act of genocide. But just weeks after the world denounced the embargo, President Joe Biden marked a sharp right turn against the island nation, despite his campaign pledge to “go back” to Obama-era politics of engagement. .

In his harshest comments to date, Biden called Cuba a “failed state”, claiming that communism is a “failed system” and that socialism is not a “very useful substitute.” But he made no mention of the role Washington played in strangling the Cuban economy. In the 2020 presidential race, he vowed to “reverse Trump’s failed policies that have harmed Cubans and their families.” Six months after taking office, and he hasn’t lifted a finger, pursuing the same approach that destroyed the progress of the very administration in which he served. As an aide to Biden put it, “Joe Biden is not Barack Obama in politics towards Cuba.”

Top House Democrats, progressives like Representative Barbara Lee to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Greg Meeks, have called on Biden to immediately lift Trump’s sanctions. Indeed, Biden could overturn any of the 240 additional sanctions imposed by Trump with one stroke of the pen, but he refused to do so. Until recently, the White House believed it could avoid the topic altogether, repeatedly telling reporters that Cuban politics were not a priority, until protests forced its hand.

Biden also broke his election promise to lift his Republican predecessor’s restrictions on the amount of money the United States can send to families in Cuba. Biden’s excuse for not easing the restrictions was that “the regime is very likely to confiscate these remittances or large chunks.” But according to Geoff Thale, chairman of the Washington Bureau on Latin America, Biden’s claim is “an error in judgment on several grounds”; he says it is highly unlikely that the government will confiscate any of the money. Thale noted that the 3% foreign exchange fee charged by Cuba on remittances, and the small transfer fees that go to financial institutions handling the transaction, are in line with “common practice” around the world. Thale adds that the Trump administration’s claim that Fincimex, the Cuban financial institution that received and distributed the money, is owned and controlled by the Cuban military “misunderstands the Cuban economic system.”

“The result of this flawed analysis is that most Cuban Americans cannot send money to their loved ones at the moment, who are facing difficult economic circumstances and shortages of food and medicine. ‘is not unreasonable, ”Thale said. The nation in an email.

Moderate and progressive Democrats remain divided on whether to end the embargo, as well as on less controversial issues, such as removing the Trump-era cap on remittances. In a private letter to Biden, Representative Lee and Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, who has been a vocal opponent of US policy toward Cuba since he attended college, called for an in-person meeting to discuss their concerns. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also condemned the Biden administration’s continued support for the embargo. “The embargo is absurdly cruel and, like too many other US policies targeting Latin Americans, cruelty is the point. I categorically reject the defense of the embargo by the Biden administration, ”Ocasio-Cortez said. His statement drew criticism from a prominent Florida Democrat, former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who calls on the United States to intervene.

On the Senate side, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was one of the main voices calling for an end to the embargo. It may not be as lonely a position as it used to be; when asked if he would support an end to the US blockade and Trump sanctions, Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware and one of Biden’s biggest allies, said The nation that he would be “very open to discussing it”. On the other hand, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who previously called for the lifting of the embargo, now qualifies his support by saying: “This is a time when you don’t want to give the Cuban government the wrong signal. . ”

Oddly enough, Republican Senator Jerry Moran had a more sympathetic response to the embargo question than Senator John Hickenlooper, a conservative Democrat from Colorado. Asked by The nation If he supports lifting the embargo, Hickenlooper replied that he “didn’t want to be in the middle of someone else’s negotiation.”

“Well, I mean there’s a point,” Hickenlooper said, after being questioned again. “The embargo is, the ultimate goal is to bring a certain level of democracy to Cuba.”

Senator Moran, who previously introduced legislation with Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Patrick Leahy to lift the trade embargo, reiterated his support for lifting the blockade. “Cubans deserve basic political and human rights, and I support their continued calls for freedom,” he said in a statement.

“This includes economic freedom. Not only are trade restrictions with Cuba hurting American producers, but the current 60-year-old trade policy has failed to bring lasting reform to Cuba, ”Moran continued. “Our trade policies should seek to benefit American producers and help those in need. My legislation will help bring products grown in the United States to the Cuban people, spreading America’s influence in their country. ”

The Kansas senator, a staff member said, tried to argue to fellow Republicans that the embargo has been “ineffective in accomplishing government reforms” and is hurting American producers. The easing of trade restrictions could “help alleviate the suffering of ordinary Cubans,” said the senator.

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