In addition to the political and economic crises in Cuba, there is a genuine humanitarian crisis, and the U.S. embargo is making it more severe. Worse still, the embargo hurts ordinary Cubans much more than it does the government.
On July 11, protests erupted throughout Cuba. Citizens called for action and change from their government on a wide array of issues. While the protesters' calls were directed at internal change and grievances and not at U.S. sanctions or the U.S. embargo, Washington can help facilitate this internal change through lifting sanctions and removing the embargo.
Cuba’s government responded with violence, repression, and detentions, which remain ongoing. One does not have to downplay the repression meted out to protesters by Cuba’s government in order to criticize the many failures of the 60-year embargo. One does not have to ignore that arbitrary detentions of peaceful protestors and a lack of due process violate Cuba’s new constitution in order to seek a more just, humane, and effective U.S. policy towards Cuba.
For too long, Cuba has been used as a proxy for ideological battles within the United States. This tendency continues in response to the widespread protests in Cuba as the spin machines of both extremes go into overdrive. Neither calls for military intervention, as expressed by the Mayor of Miami Francis Suarez, nor reflexively blaming the United States for all of Cuba’s ills does anything for the Cuban people.
Between these extremes there is a great deal of middle ground where President Biden could take action to support the Cuban people without conceding anything to their government. Cuba is currently facing an economic and humanitarian crisis, including mass food, electricity, and medicine shortages, further exacerbated by an increase in COVID-19 cases and tightened U.S. sanctions. Any response by Washington must address the humanitarian crisis.
During a July 12 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki asserted that the U.S. embargo allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba. Though there are humanitarian allowances under the embargo framework, in practice, there are severe limitations and obstacles to delivering humanitarian assistance to Cuba. Companies and individuals from other countries that wish to help the Cuban people at this complicated moment through the sale of medical goods are limited by U.S. sanctions that restrict the percentage of U.S. content allowed in foreign sales to Cuba to less than 10 percent.
Furthermore, U.S. sanctions on Cuba are so far-reaching that many foreign companies are hesitant to run the risk associated with such a bureaucratic maze. At the start of the pandemic, a shipment of face masks and other coronavirus aid from China was thwarted when the shipper declined to complete delivery for fear of risking prosecution under the embargo.
U.S.-origin donations of medicines and medical equipment to Cuba, such as testing kits and respiratory devices, require a specific license, which takes time and a tremendous amount of paperwork. Additionally, onerous end-user verification requirements for the exportation of medical supplies, instruments, and equipment, can severely restrict the ability of such goods to reach the Cuban people and should be removed. Six months ago I purchased a nebulizer for my cousin in Cuba. I still have not discovered a way to actually ship it to her.
The administration has insisted it is fast-tracking humanitarian licenses. They could also apply that to medical sales, or even offer short-term general licenses for those categories of sales or donations. The American people are eager to assist their neighbors. A recent campaign to raise money to send syringes to Cuba in the face of the island’s shortage garnered support from thousands of Americans and raised over $500,000. Even President George W. Bush offered bilateral humanitarian aid to Cuba in 2008 after Hurricane Ike.
President Biden’s announcement directing the administration to examine remittances to Cuba is a good and necessary first step. By lifting restrictions and caps on family and other donative remittances, we can let Cuban Americans exercise their right to send, or not send, remittances. Is it really the business of the U.S. government to tell Cuban Americans whether or not they can help their families suffering through the pandemic? President Biden’s concerns about remittances being confiscated by the Cuban government have been thoroughly addressed. Allowing the flow of remittances empowers both Cuban Americans and the Cuban people.
Cuba’s government would be ill-advised to read any of these actions as a concession or as a measure of support. The Biden administration has placed support for democracy and human rights as it’s lodestar in its efforts to empower the Cuban people to determine their own future. Efforts by the Cuban government to suppress peaceful protest, including the use of force against protestors, and to delegitimize civil society are wrong, counter-productive, and misguided.
Regardless of future actions on the part of Cuba’s government, Washington can and should provide critical support to Cuba’s civil society so that it has the tools and the resources to play a critical role in determining the country’s future. This support should come with transparency. For civil society to be effective, it must be independent and not seen — or made susceptible to be seen — as merely an arm of the United States.
Loosening the regulations on humanitarian aid would achieve President Biden’s goals of empowering the Cuban people without aiding the government and still allow Biden to defend human rights and condemn the government’s repression.
Now is the time for diplomacy and dialogue, not general sanctions that disproportionately harm ordinary Cubans, especially Cuban women, Afro-Cubans, and LGBTQ+ Cubans, who are also the people most affected by the domestic crisis. During this difficult period, there is rightfully a great desire to help the Cuban people. We cannot simultaneously stand with them and subject them to draconian conditions of isolation and hunger. President Biden can take these actions and continue to press Cuba on human rights abuses. By centering our policy efforts on the humanitarian needs and desires of the average Cuban, without wavering in our support of human rights, the Cuban people can become more than a political football in the ideological and domestic political battles in the United States.
Jorge Quintana serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. Jorge has over 20 years of experience practicing law, most notably as the Chief Legal Counsel for Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. Jorge was a longtime leader in the Montana Democratic Party, having represented Montana on the Democratic National Committee from 2010-2021 and from 2016-2020, serving on the DNC Resolutions Committee and as Vice-Chair of the DNC Hispanic Caucus.As a strong supporter of rapprochement with Cuba, Jorge previously founded Cuba Connections Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to forming relationships between Montanans and Cubans. The son of Cuban immigrants, Jorge received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and his J.D. from the University of Montana School of Law.
MUNICH, GERMANY — If U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris dominated the first day of the Munich Security Conference with her remarks, today it was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s turn.
It was not only Zelensky who understandably devoted his whole speech to the Ukraine War but also Scholz, too. The German Chancellor, while boasting that his country will devote 2% of its GDP to defense expenditures this year, remarked that “we Europeans need to do much more for our security now and in the future.”
In a brief but clear reference to Trump’s recent statements on NATO, Scholz said, "any relativization of NATO’s mutual defense guarantee will only benefit those who, just like Putin, want to weaken us.” On the guns and butter debate, which is particularly relevant in Germany due to negligible economic growth, Scholz acknowledged that critical voices are saying, “should not we be using the money for other things?” But he chose not to engage in this debate, noting instead that “Moscow is fanning the flames of such doubts with targeted disinformation campaigns and with propaganda on social media.”
The Russian capture of the city represents the most significant defeat for Ukraine since the failure of its counter-offensive last year. On the loss of Avdiivka, Zelensky said that Ukraine had lost one soldier for every seven soldiers who have died on the Russian side. This, however, is difficult to reconcile with the reports about the rushed Ukrainian retreat, with a Ukrainian soldier explaining that “the road to Avdiivka is littered with our corpses.”
Throughout his speech, Zelensky repeatedly referred to the importance of defending what he called the “rules-based world order” by defeating Russia. If there was one take-away that Zelensky wanted impressed on this audience: “Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself why is Putin still able to continue it.”
He also seemed to suggest that it was not a lack of available weapons and artillery but a willingness to give them over to Ukraine. “Dear friends, unfortunately keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” Zelenskyy said. “The self-weakening of democracy over time undermines our joint results.”
The future of NATO was one of the main topics of the day. European leaders were in agreement that Europe needs to spend more on defense, and occasionally appeared to compete with each other on who has spent the most on weapons delivered to Ukraine or in their national defense budgets.
With NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in attendance, one of the panels featured two of the most talked-about names to replace the Norwegian politician in the 75th-anniversary summit in Washington in July: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. According to a report by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, President Joseph Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken favor the German leader, but in Paris, London, and Berlin, the Dutch politician is preferred.
The participation of the Netherlands in the initial U.S.-UK joint strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen on Jan. 11 was read in some quarters as a sign of Rutte’s ambitions. The Netherlands was the only EU country to join these initial attacks.
A G7 meeting of foreign ministers also took place Saturday on the sidelines of the conference. In a press briefing that followed, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani — who currently presides the G7 — reiterated the group’s support for Ukraine. The current situation in the Red Sea, as is often the case in the West, was presented by Tajani as a topic divorced from the Gaza Strip. The Houthis started their campaign against ships in the Red Sea after the beginning of the war in Gaza, claiming they want to force an end to the conflict.
There is no certainty that the end of the war in Gaza would put an end to Houthi attacks, but presenting the situation in the Red Sea as being nothing but a threat to freedom of trade is considered by experts to be a a myopic approach.
Nevertheless, Italy will be in command of the new EU naval mission ASPIDES, to be deployed soon in the Red Sea. The mission is expected to be approved by the next meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers on Monday. When asked whether he could ensure that ASPIDES would remain a defensive mission, the Italian Foreign Minister said ASPIDES aims at defending merchant ships and that if drones or missiles are launched, they will be shot down, but no attacks will be conducted.
Marc Martorell Junyent is in Munich, covering the conference for Responsible Statecraft this weekend. This story is developing and is being updated.
keep readingShow less
Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 16, 2024. (Lukas Barth-Tuttas/MSC)
MUNICH, GERMANY – The 60th year of the Munich Security Conference opened today with much of the early energy surrounding remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The vice president noted that it was nearly two years since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. She said that when Putin unleashed his troops along different fronts in February 2022, “many thought Kyiv would fall within a day.” It is also true, as she pointed out, that “Ukraine has regained more than half the territory Russia occupied at the start of the conflict.” (Russia held about 7% before the invasion, 27% right after, and about 18% today.)
However, by choosing the first months of the war as the starting point of her speech, Harris sought to avoid the obvious. Namely, that in the year that has gone by since her last visit to Munich, the Ukrainian army has been losing ground. Yet, her remarks regarding Ukraine today did not differ much from her speech in 2023.
Harris seemed dedicated to keeping to the administration’s recent script, which is warning against heralding in a new era of “isolationism,” referring to President Biden's likely presidential election opponent, Donald Trump.
As president Biden and I have made clear over the past three years, we are committed to pursue global engagement, to uphold international rules and norms, to defend democratic values at home and abroad, and to work with our allies and partners in pursuit of shared goals.
As I travel throughout my country and the world, it is clear to me: this approach makes America strong. And it keeps Americans safe.
Interestingly, the U.S. has been accused of thwarting "international rules and norms" in its unconditional support of Israel’s war on Gaza, which has killed upwards of 29,000 Palestinians, mostly of them civilians, since Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and hostage-taking. Christoph Heusgen, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, asked Harris whether a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine was achievable. Harris answered that “the short answer is yes… but we must then put the discussion in context, starting with October 7.” Not 1948, not 1967, but October 7, 2023.
Her prepared remarks on the situation were very brief, overall, saying:
In the Middle East, we are working to end the conflict that Hamas triggered on October 7th as soon as possible and ensure it ends in a way where Israel is secure, hostages are released, the humanitarian crisis is resolved, Hamas does not control Gaza, and Palestinians can enjoy their right to security, dignity, freedom, and self-determination.
This work — while we also work to counter aggression from Iran and its proxies, prevent regional escalation, and promote regional integration.
October 7 was the topic of a conference side event hosted by Brigadier-General Gal Hirsch, Israel’s Coordinator for Hostages and Missing. In his opening speech, he called for a Global War on Kidnapping inspired by George Bush’s War on Terror. Hirsch was short on the specifics, and Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz did not develop the concept further when he followed Hirsch at the podium. During the event, several hostages released during the short ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in November 2023 described their harrowing experiences in captivity. Relatives of the remaining hostages accompanied them.
Meanwhile, in a morning event, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed how to increase defense spending in a time of economic stagnation. Mitsotakis, whose country has always spent significantly more than the expected 2% of the GDP required by NATO, stated that defense policy cannot be done on a budget. Lindner, meanwhile, remarked that Germany is on the way to spending 2% of its GDP on defense. Economic prosperity, the German Liberal minister noted, should avoid tradeoffs between social and defense policies. This is certainly a difficult equation to square since the German government just announced it was reviewing its forecast for GDP growth in 2024 from 1.3% down to 0.2%.
Marc Martorell Junyent is in Munich, covering the conference for Responsible Statecraft this weekend. This story is developing.
keep readingShow less
Handout photo shows US President Joe Biden (C-R) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (C-L) take part in a bilateral meeting, on the final day of a three-day G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21, 2023. The final day of the three-day of the Group of Seven leaders' summit is under way in the western Japan city of Hiroshima, with focus on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his talks with international leaders. Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via ABACAPRESS.COM
Roughly 70% of Americans want the Biden administration to push Ukraine toward a negotiated peace with Russia as soon as possible, according to a new survey from the Harris Poll and the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.
Support for negotiations remained high when respondents were told such a move would include compromises by all parties, with two out of three respondents saying the U.S. should still pursue talks despite potential downsides. The survey shows a nine-point jump from a poll in late 2022 that surveyed likely voters. In that poll, 57% of respondents said they backed talks that would involve compromises.
The new data suggests that U.S. government policy toward the Ukraine war is increasingly out of step with public opinion on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
“Americans’ strong support for U.S. diplomatic efforts to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stands in stark contrast to Washington’s reluctance to use its considerable leverage to get Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table and end this war,” said George Beebe, the director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute.
The Biden administration has publicly rejected the idea of negotiating an end to the war with Russia, with U.S. officials saying that they are prepared to back Ukraine “as long as it takes” to achieve the country’s goal of ejecting Russian troops from all of its territory, including Crimea.
Just this week, Russian sources told Reuters that the U.S. declined a Kremlin offer to pursue a ceasefire along the current frontlines in conversations held in late 2023 and early 2024, including a round of unofficial talks in Turkey.
U.S. officials denied the claim, saying there was no “official contact” between Moscow and Washington on the issue and that the U.S. would only agree to negotiations involving Ukraine. Reuters’ Russian sources claimed that American officials said they did not want to pressure Kyiv into talks.
The Harris/Quincy Institute poll involved an online survey of 2,090 American adults from Feb. 8 to 12. The results are weighted to ensure a representative sample of the U.S. population. The margin of error is 2.5% using a 95% confidence level.
As the House weighs whether to approve new aid for Ukraine, 48% of respondents said they support new funding as long as it is conditioned on progress toward a diplomatic solution to the war. Others disagreed over whether the U.S. should halt all aid (30%) or continue funding without specific conditions (22%).
This question revealed a sharp partisan divide on whether to continue Ukraine funding in any form. Fully 46% of Republicans favor an immediate shutoff of the aid spigot, as compared to 17% of Democrats.
Meanwhile, 54% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans favored conditioning aid on diplomatic talks. “The American people seem more clear-eyed than Washington in recognizing the urgent need to pair aid for Ukraine’s defense with a diplomatic offensive,” Beebe argued.
The poll also showed that most Americans expect the war to drag into at least 2025. Only 16% of respondents thought the war would end this year. Others were evenly split on how long the war might last, with 46% expecting it to be resolved before the end of 2026 and 38% saying there is no end in sight.