(WTVO) — President Joe Biden praised Cuban protestors this week and called communism a “universally failed system” amid one of the island’s biggest antigovernment demonstrations in recent memory.
In a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on July 15, Biden said the US is looking to possibly reinstate internet access in Cuba but will not reinstate US to Cuba remittances, according to CNN.
“Cuba is unfortunately a failed state and repressing their citizens. There are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government,” Biden said.
Biden also denounced communism during the conference when asked about his views on the system.
“Communism is a failed system — a universally failed system. And I don’t see socialism as a very useful substitute. But that’s another story,” Biden said.
This comes after his praise of protestors in Cuba earlier this week, when talking to reporters on July 12. Many took the streets to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis.
“The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this protest in a long, long time, if, quite frankly, ever,” Biden told reporters before a meeting with mayors and law enforcement officials to discuss gun violence in the U.S.
In an earlier statement on July 12, Biden said the US stands with the protestors.
“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. “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights.”
Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for the department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, on Sunday suggested that the protests were driven by Cuban people exercising “their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID case/deaths & medicine shortage. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors.”
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday sought to frame the protests being driven by far broader frustration, calling the demonstrations “spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement and repression.”
Psaki added that the U.S. remains ready to assist Cuba in its COVID-19 vaccination effort, but the Cuban government’s decision not to participate in COVAX — a worldwide initiative aimed at distributing vaccines to poorer nations — complicated the effort.
“We certainly recognize and understand that access to vaccines is one of the issues that a number of individuals on the streets is voicing concern about, but we have to determine what the mechanism would be to work with the Cuban people to get vaccines to them,” Psaki said.
The scene of demonstrators on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island was an unusual scene as the communist leadership has historically shown little tolerance for criticism. Police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted “Freedom,” “Enough” and “Unite.” One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.
About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed. AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.
Biden said on the campaign trail that he would largely reverse Trump’s Cuba policy and return to Obama-era policies. But Biden has largely kept Trump’s policies in the place in the early going.
Administration officials said their review of Cuba policy is ongoing.
“We’re looking carefully and closely at what has just happened, what indeed is happening,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “And as we stated many times, at the heart of the review and at the heart of the policy that would result are democracy and human rights. That’s core to our efforts. That will be reflected in the policy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.