United States: Biden panders to right-wing Cuban Americans

#LetCubaLive mural in Belfast, Ireland. Photo: @CubaIreSol/Twitter

Hot on the heels of the sanctions imposed on the Cuban Defence Minister and the Boinas Negras (the National Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior) on July 22, United States president Joe Biden has imposed further sanctions — this time on two leaders of the Cuban national police (Policia Nacional Revolucionaria, PNR) as well as the organisation as a whole.

The Cuban national police sit within the Cuban interior ministry and was already the subject of a blanket designation by former president Donald Trump’s administration back in January.

These new sanctions have again been imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which authorises the US government to sanction any person or body it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the country.

The sanctions, which followed unprecedented protests in Cuba on July 11 and 12, have been invoked by the US for almost entirely domestic political reasons.

Somewhat theatrically, but most revealingly, Biden announced the latest sanctions at the start of a White House meeting with right-wing Cuban Americans.

“We hear the cries of freedom coming from the island,” said Biden. “The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people.”

Of course, if the US government were really serious about bolstering the cause of the Cuban people it would immediately take steps to end its six-decade-long economic, financial and commercial embargo against the Caribbean nation.

During his term as president, Trump imposed more than 200 additional sanctions on Cuba. To date, Biden hasn’t revoked any of them.

The fundamental cause of the suffering of the Cuban people is the US blockade. Yet it remains, despite the United Nations calling for its removal year after year.

In the UN, 184 countries voted on June 23 to demand the end to the blockade for the 29th year in a row. Only the US and Israel voted against the motion.

Right-wing Cuban Americans, mostly residing in Florida, are in a most privileged position and can swing an election in the key battleground state.

Trump pandered to them throughout his presidency. On almost every occasion that he imposed some sanction on Cuba, he travelled to Florida to announce it before an audience of faithful Cuban Americans.

Biden has clearly decided to follow suit. As a career politician, he knows the Democratic Party has received criticism from right-wing Cuban Americans for some time now.

It is therefore no surprise that Biden’s recent sanctions come hot on the heels of resolutions passed by the Florida Democratic Party calling for “additional sanctions against the leaders of the failed socialist-communist regime”.

The Biden administration is also looking at other ways to undermine and destabilise the government in Havana.

Biden says he is looking to provide internet access to Cubans. However, Cubans already have access to the internet. What Biden is suggesting is simply code for beefing up the US government’s longstanding campaign — part overt, part covert — to destabilise Cuba’s socialist project. The name of the game is disinformation, and the US government is an expert at it.

Consider the actions carried out by US sympathisers in the context of the July 11 protests in Cuba. Undoubtedly, there were some truly disaffected Cubans. The effects of the blockade and the COVID-19 pandemic are devastating, and some of that anger and hurt was directed at the Cuban government.

That is where the US government’s disinformation campaign comes in. Social media fanned the flames — something the US is only too happy to see.

Biden’s latest sanctions are driven by ultra-reactionary, Cuban-Americans and US interests in the region. Both are determined to destabilise the regime in Havana, even at the expense of the lives of ordinary Cubans.