Here’s what President Biden should do next to punish Cuba’s dictatorship for its brutal repression of peaceful protests on July 11: Give the island’s internal opposition more high-profile recognition and turn it into a key player in any dealings with the regime.
That’s the first thing that Manuel Cuesta Morúa, the head of Cuba’s opposition Progressive Arc Party, told me in a telephone interview from Havana when I asked what the United States and other Western democracies should do to help the Cuban people.
On July 11, Cuesta Morúa was arrested by Cuban police as he was on a bus heading for the demonstration in the Cuban capital. He was released after the protest ended, but human-rights groups say that at least 450 opposition activists who participated remain in jail or are unaccounted for.
Biden deserves credit for his reaction to the Cuban regime’s crackdown. He has resisted the calls by the Democratic Party’s far left and the Black Lives Matter Foundation to lift U.S. sanctions. That would amount to rewarding repression. (And, for the record, the United States conducts significant trade with Cuba, because the embargo has key exceptions for food and medicines.
Thursday, Biden ordered financial and travel sanctions against a top Cuban general and the Avispas Negras (Black Wasps), the interior ministry’s special forces involved in the repression. Biden also announced that he is looking for ways to provide Cubans with free internet services.
“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime.”
Cuesta Morúa told me that the best thing world democracies could do for the Cuban people would be “to elevate the status of the political opposition and civil society in Cuba.”
Asked to elaborate, he said that when dealing with Cuba-related issues, the United States and other countries “should include the opinion of Cuba’s peaceful opposition,” and make it clear to Cuba’s regime that their policies “will be guided by a recognition that Cuba is a plural society.”
Also, when foreign diplomats or government officials go to Cuba, they should make it the norm to meet publicly with opposition leaders, as they do in most other countries.
The Cuban regime demands visiting dignitaries to abstain from meeting openly with opposition activists, Cuesta Morúa said.
Indeed, Biden and other democratic leaders could also invite the leaders of Cuba’s opposition San Isidro Movement and other well-known opposition activists to speak — virtually, if necessary — at international summits.
That would not only be a morale booster for them; it would give them renewed political oxygen at home.
Right now, Cuba’s opposition activists can’t organize peaceful protests, or create legal political parties, or have access to the island’s mass media. The dictatorship officially considers them foreign-supported “mercenaries” and “enemies of the people.”
Of course, you can argue that Cuba’s opposition leaders haven’t been elected. But neither has Cuba’s dictatorship, which hasn’t allowed a free election in more than six decades.
In fact, judging from the July 11 protests, the opposition has much more support within Cuba than does the regime. While thousands of protesters marched in dozens of cities across the island despite the regime’s repression, Cuba’s dictatorship could only muster an unimpressive crowd of state employees and students who were taken in government buses to a regime rally afterward.
Cuesta Morúa told me that another important move that Western democracies could make is give Cuba’s opposition leaders more resources.They need, among other things, computers, cell phones and internet access, he said.
The massive July 11 protests were unprecedented in Cuba’s recent history. If its decrepit dictatorship doesn’t give the island’s internal opposition the freedom to express itself, other countries should.
Biden should invite Cuba’s leading opposition activists to speak at the next G-20 summit of the world’s largest economies, and make them honorary guests at the Summit of the Americas that he will be host in the United States next year.
These are some of the next best steps to help Cuba’s peaceful opposition.
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