President Biden should not allow Cuban American elites, who do not represent the Cuban people, to dictate his policies toward the island.
Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, have criticized the Biden administration’s ongoing review of Trump’s restrictions on remittances to Cuba.
In comparison to the average Cuban, these leaders are well-fed, well-off, and white. Although approximately 86 percent of Cuban Americans identify as white, two-thirds of Cubans in Cuba are Afro or mixed — a result of the fact that the first Cuban émigrés to the United States were primarily affluent whites. Although remittances have historically benefited émigrés’ privileged relatives, more recent Afro Cuban immigrants in the United States have also been assisting relatives back home.
Biden says he supports allowing Cuban Americans to financially support relatives again, but he wants to ensure that the Cuban military does not get a cut. Remittances have long been a major source of income in Cuba, amounting to $3.7 billion in 2019 and primarily flowing through Western Union. Western Union closed its 407 offices in Cuba last fall after the Trump administration prohibited funds from being transferred to firms that work with Cuban military-controlled companies. Western Union works with Fincimex, a military-controlled agency, and a small portion of remittance transaction fees end up in the hands of the Cuban military.
The voices of affluent Cuban Americans who oppose remittances because they despise Cuba’s Communist leaders should not drown out Cubans’ cries for food and medicine. Thousands of people chanted “patria y vida” — homeland and life — during last month’s historic protests, a hopeful reprise of the Communist Party’s slogan, “patria o muerte,” which means “homeland or death.”
Afro Cubans were prominent in the protests, and they wrote the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which inspired the chants. Biden should pay more attention to them than to white Cuban elites in Florida and elsewhere in the United States.
Biden was correct to condemn Cuba’s repressive response, which included hundreds of brutal arrests and an internet blackout. However, his inaction on reversing Trump’s cruel sanctions, which was a campaign promise, is concerning.
The United States’ embargo against Cuba, which has been in effect since 1962 and prohibits American companies from doing business on the island, has failed to elicit political change. We have 60 years of evidence that it has only exacerbated hunger and misery — and provided the Cuban government with a perpetual justification for its failures. Trump’s decision to deny remittances to Cubans is more of the same.
Many historians believe that lifting sanctions, particularly Trump’s remittance ban, would empower locals in their fight against the Cuban government. When Obama relaxed restrictions and increased travel to Cuba, locals were exposed to a different way of life and politics. However, this enrages Cuban Americans who have a “shared groupthink that you need to be tough on the Castro regime,” according to Pastor.
However, given the intense suffering in Cuba, many people are growing impatient with Biden’s pace. Carlos Lazo, a Cuban American activist with whom I spoke, has been unable to send money to his aunt. He charged Biden with pandering to the most conservative segment of the Cuban American community.
Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) are urging Biden to end his hesitancy on remittances. “The most important priority at the moment is to respond to the suffering of the Cuban people,” Lee said in an emailed statement, adding that Biden “should quickly lift all restrictions and caps on family and charitable remittances,” among other sanctions. McGovern said it’s hard to reconcile Biden today with the man who once promoted Obama’s loosened restrictions as a way to help the Cuban people. He added: “As of right now, I can’t tell the difference between Trump’s policies on Cuba and Biden’s policies on Cuba, and I hope that changes.”
Conservatives have used the Cuban government’s repression of recent protests to argue for the continuation of the six-decade-old status quo. Of course, this will not bring democracy to the island or assist protesters calling for change. Biden must break the decades-long U.S. cycle of supporting right-wing interests in Latin America and the Caribbean at the expense of Afro and Indigenous peoples. Latino voters, including Cuban Americans living outside of Florida, who helped elect him, are waiting for him to do the right thing.