The Cuban regime is once again cracking down and arresting peaceful dissidents. This time, the move involved deploying officers dressed in medical gowns under the false pretext of COVID-19 restrictions. It is a stark reminder of the cynical lengths the fledgling regime will go to stamp out and censor nonviolent protest.
The ongoing crackdown comes as the Castro-Díaz-Canel regime is facing increased pressure from the Cuban people, who are demanding that their rights to free speech and other basic liberties be respected.
As the situation in Cuba worsens, a Biden Administration would face a critical decision when it comes to its policy toward the island. Would Biden stand with the dissidents and continue the Trump Administration’s key reforms, which have financially crippled the regime and prioritized the demands of the Cuban people? Or would he return to the failed Obama Administration policy of rewarding Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel with sanctions relief and political legitimacy for decades of repressive behavior?
If Biden were to recommit to the same Obama-era policies, we know far too well who would suffer: those who seek a freer, more democratic Cuba, including the island’s dissidents, political prisoners, artists, and activists. Instead of turning our backs on them, it is critical for American leaders to support those brave Cubans standing up to a brutal communist regime.
We can already see how the Cuban regime responds when it thinks relief may be on the way.
It has aggressively moved to censor artists and independent media, including its ongoing assault against members of the San Isidro movement. More innocent Cubans will pay the price if we return to a one-sided Cuba policy – and throw a life-line to Raúl Castro’s dictatorial regime.
This includes Las Damas de Blanco, a group of courageous women who peacefully demand the release of political prisoners and whom the U.S. Senate honored in a bipartisan resolution this year. And the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), whose leader José Daniel Ferrer has faced multiple unjust arrests and arbitrary charges in attempts to silence his organization.
It also includes the Christian Liberation Movement and its Varela Project, which sought to advance democracy on the island by invoking a provision in the Cuban Constitution that allows the public to collect signatures and introduce legislation. I remain committed to renaming the street in front of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. after the Movement’s founder, the late Oswaldo Payá.
Any U.S. administration — especially one led by Joe Biden — must make explicitly clear that it understands what a disastrous decision it was for President Obama to accede to the release and pardon of the regime’s convicted spy for murdering four Cuban-American nationals, members of the humanitarian organization Brothers to the Rescue.
It must furthermore condemn the terrible precedent that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power set when she decided to abstain, for the first time in history, against the embargo imposed on the regime. A Biden Administration should also reinstate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, which was terminated under the Obama Administration.
By contrast, a more responsible policy towards Cuba would follow in the footsteps of President Trump and advance policies meant to protect the fundamental rights of Cubans. In the coming years, that will particularly mean working to promote internet access on the island, so Cubans are better connected with independent sources of information.
In addition, it would entail a commitment to securing compensation for Americans who had their property wrongfully stolen by the corrupt Castro regime. Responsible policymaking will also mean ensuring that nations currently engaged in activities that constitute the human trafficking of Cuban medical professionals instead directly contract and fully compensate those individuals, as well as abide by all international labor standards and protocols.
The authority to which the Cuban regime continues to cling today is unsustainable in the long run. Its members know that. The Communist Party’s older generation of hard-liners is dying out, and their successors will face significant problems because the Cuban people will not accept their current repression and behavior;
The next administration’s Cuba policy will be a test to prove how they truly prioritize “values” in U.S. foreign policy. The fate of Cuba belongs to the Cuban people alone, but our nation’s role in bettering their lives cannot fall back to what it was under the Obama Administration.
Marco Rubio is the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs for the Western Hemisphere and a senator for the state of Florida.