By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Monday the United States supports the people of Cuba in their call for freedom and relief from the pandemic and economic woes but the White House stopped short of a shift away from a Trump-era embargo of the island. Thousands of Cubans […]
U.S. stands with Cuban people in call for freedom, relief from pandemic -Biden
By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Monday the United States supports the people of Cuba in their call for freedom and relief from the pandemic and economic woes but the White House stopped short of a shift away from a Trump-era embargo of the island.
Thousands of Cubans joined street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Communist-run Cuba in decades. They chanted “Freedom” and called for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.
“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said in a statement.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, asked about the protests at a news briefing, said the White House was assessing the protests and gave no indication of an immediate shift in policy.
Biden’s administration has been reviewing its approach to Cuba since he took over from Republican President Donald Trump, who had closed the door to increased travel and tourism to Cuba opened up by Democratic President Barack Obama’s policy.
“We are assessing how we can be helpful to the people of Cuba,” Psaki said.
The protests erupted amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the 1990s after the break-up of former ally the Soviet Union and more recently a record surge in coronavirus infections, with people denouncing shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.
“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected,” Biden said.
“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
Shortly before Biden issued his statement, Diaz-Canel on Monday blamed U.S. sanctions, which were tightened in recent years, for economic woes such as medicine shortages and power outages that fueled unusual protests this weekend.
Psaki denied the sanctions were to blame, saying U.S. policy still allowed significant amounts of aid to get through to Havana.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Mark Heinrich)