Domestic politics bind Biden to Cuba


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Washington (AFP)

Hopes that President Joe Biden will ease the draconian restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba imposed by his predecessor are being held hostage by domestic politics and the Cuban-American community that opposes Havana, analysts say.

Biden was vice president when Barack Obama thawed relations with the Caribbean country in 2014, reopening diplomatic missions, abolishing a decades-old embargo, allowing American tourists to visit and import from the Communist-controlled island .

But U.S. support for last weekend’s anti-government protests across Cuba, and Biden’s tight calculations surrounding Democrats’ control of Congress, explain why he did not reverse the extreme punitive measures against Havana. put in place by President Donald Trump over the past four years.

Ahead of last year’s presidential election, Biden said he would reverse Trump’s policies. But pressed Thursday to know if he would ease the US embargo, Biden objected.

“Cuba is unfortunately a failed state and (is) repressing its citizens,” he told reporters.

“There are a number of things we would consider doing to help the Cuban people, but that would require different circumstances or a guarantee that they would not be exploited by the government.”

– “Challenge the diet” –

After taking office in January, many Democrats pressured Biden to reverse Trump’s policies.

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On March 2, 80 lawmakers called for swift action to “return to the diplomatic path mapped out by the Obama-Biden administration and end the nearly six-decade economic embargo.”

Most importantly, they wanted him to withdraw Trump’s designation of Cuba as sponsor of terrorism in January nine days before his resignation.

But the outbreak of protests in Cuba against social and political repression was a game-changer, with Republicans taking the opportunity to accuse Democrats of supporting the Havana regime.

“The Biden administration is betraying the freedom-loving Cuban people. I fought for Cuba, not them,” Trump, who still holds substantial political power, said in a statement.

The reality, said Dan Restrepo of the Center for American Progress, a think tank, is that Democrats may need the support of the strongly anti-Havana Cuban-American community to maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections. November 2022.

“Cuban politics and domestic politics are very difficult to separate,” he said.

Democrats lost five congressional seats last year in Florida, two in Cuban-dense Miami, reducing their control of the House of Representatives to a bare margin.

So, most Democrats are now urging Biden to stand firm with Cuban policies – essentially to leave Trump’s policies in place.

“We have to challenge the regime,” Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told MSN.

“The regime must change to allow the Cuban people to prosper,” said Menendez, whose parents were Cuban immigrants and who has a large Cuban population in his constituency of New Jersey.

“We stand in solidarity with the thousands of peaceful protesters across Cuba who challenge its repressive regime. May their courage and this historic moment bring real change,” tweeted Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democratic lawmaker from South Florida.

– Political opportunity? –

Restrepo said negotiating support for the Cuban community was difficult, noting that Cuba’s most recent arrivals are more conservative than ever.

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“The hard-line stance on Cuba today is quite extreme among Cubans in South Florida, where the mayor of Miami is calling for military intervention,” he said.

According to a poll conducted last year by the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University, 60% of Cuban Americans in South Florida support the continued embargo.

However, the poll also showed that significant majorities also supported Obama-Biden’s policies on diplomatic relations, the sale of food and medicine, allowing many trips to the island and the remittances that Trump brought. interrupted.

In view of this, Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster, told NPR radio that the Cuba issue could work to Biden’s advantage if he handled it proactively, visiting the Cuban community in Florida.

It could be “a political gift from the gods,” he said.

“But if he takes a more passive, behind-the-scenes wait-and-see approach, I think it will be both a policy and a lost political opportunity.”

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