Biden: We stand with the people of Cuba in their push for freedom

AP Photo/Ismael Francisco

Yesterday’s statement from a State Department apparatchik was lame, portraying the protests as a simple backlash to the pandemic:

It’s strange that Cuba would be having a health-care crisis when, to hear the left tell it, their health-care system is top-notch and proof of socialism’s superiority.

Republicans let Biden hear it afterward, justifiably fearing that the U.S. might stand aside as Cubans rally for freedom the way Obama did during Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009. There’s one critical difference between then and now, though, and I don’t mean who the president is. Iranian-Americans don’t represent a key voting bloc in a hugely important state. Cuban-Americans do, famously.

And so Sleepy Joe sounds a lot more “Cuba libre” than State did in his first official statement about the uprising:

It’s about decades of repression, Biden correctly notes, not just medicine shortages. Who knows what that statement would have looked like if not for Democrats’ recent electoral struggles in Florida.

One problem that faces every U.S. president when an enemy regime is destabilized by domestic unrest is whether cheerleading the effort will hurt the protesters more than help them. The first move in the dictator’s playbook when mass demonstrations break out is to claim that they’re a CIA operation to weaken the country, ring-led from Washington. Miguel Diaz-Canel has read the playbook:

Mr. Díaz-Canel said in televised remarks on Sunday that the protests were a form of “systemic provocation” by dissidents doing the bidding of the United States. He said Washington in recent months had sought to destabilize and weaken the island’s economy as part of a policy designed to “provoke a massive social implosion.”

Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, said in a rare reference to demonstrations that people who took to the streets on Sunday included government supporters who “may have been confused by disinformation on social media.”

A White House statement under those circumstances risks playing into his hands. But not issuing a White House statement would hand Republicans a dream opportunity to solidify their gains in Florida over the past five years, possibly taking the state off the board for Dems for the foreseeable future. Biden’s most notorious underperformance in the last election was among Latinos in Florida, especially Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County. He can’t risk pissing them off further and validating the GOP’s claim that Democrats are the pawns of ruthless socialists like the Castro regime and its descendants. So Biden has to take the “Cuba libre” view — rhetorically, at least.

Whether there’ll be any meaningful policy moves to support the protesters is another matter. Things could get ugly quickly:

There are claims of Cuban police using live ammunition against people already.

Reports of the Internet going offline in protest areas are also circulating, another predictable move in the authoritarian playbook to prevent the opposition from organizing. The U.S. can do something about that, notes Ben Shapiro. Will Biden put his money where his mouth is?

Florida politicians from both parties are scrambling to show solidarity with the demonstrations. The most ardent is Marco Rubio, whose own family fled Cuba decades ago to escape the Batista regime. Rubio has an election coming up next year and knows that Cuban-American voters will be paying attention right now to where their local leaders stand on the protests.

His likely Democratic opponent, Val Demings, also grasps the stakes here:

So does Ron DeSantis, who’s facing an election in 2022:

Major politicians outside Florida are also looking to maneuver. The DSA types in Pelosi’s caucus were a major albatross for the party last year in House swing districts and especially in Florida. She’s trying to counterprogram them today by signaling support for the protesters against the communist government:

Jazz wondered this morning if we might see a regime-backed mass emigration operation from Cuba after all this, and seemed skeptical that the refugees would be welcomed anywhere given Cuba’s COVID problem. I’m less skeptical. What choice would Biden have but to accept them, given the electoral stakes? The administration would have to figure out how to somehow process all of them with proper pandemic precautions; maybe vaccination would be mandatory upon arrival, or two weeks of quarantine. (If word got back to Cuba that new arrivals were being vaccinated, would that actually encourage more Cubans to leave?) The politics would be tricky too. Although a massive refugee effort led by Biden’s administration might earn some goodwill among Cuban-American voters, Dems will be jittery about accepting thousands more Cubans in a swing state where voters of Cuban ancestry have been tough for them to win. It’d be the traditional political debate over immigration in reverse, with the left instead of the right for once expecting that a major influx of migrants from abroad might hurt them electorally.

I’ll leave you with this. Cuba libre!