- QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me. Yesterday, secretary (inaudible) announced that the United States is
considering reestablishing remittances to Cuba. My question is: Does the
Biden administration really believe that it would be helping to the Cuban people
and not the Miguel Diaz-Canel government? Can you tell us about the measures
that the Washington will take to restore remittance to Cuba? Thank you.
- MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Luis. So broadly speaking, our
policy towards Cuba focuses first and foremost for the support of the Cuban
people, and that would include their political and economic well-being, and that
would also include human rights. So that means that we’re committed to promoting
accountability for Cuban Government officials involved in any human rights
- I’d also say that, following the July 2021 protests, that the Biden-Harris
administration created a remittance working group to explore options to
facilitate remittances to Cuba that would go to benefit the Cuban people, and
that would allow Cuban families to support one another, and also minimize or
eliminate benefits to the – both the Cuban regime and its military.
- Also, in August of 2021, the remittance working group shared its analysis,
including additional options, with other members of the administration, and the
administration continues to consider these options, as well as explore
innovative solutions, and that also includes digital payments as a part of these
solutions. Outside of that, we don’t have a specific timetable to share at this
- QUESTION: Hi, and happy Friday. I just wanted to ask you on Iran if
you have any news on when Special Envoy Malley is going back to Vienna for the
resumption of the talks, if he’s going today as the – it was first said that the
talks would resume this week, or if it’s delayed.
- And just – and then just a quick follow-up on Cuba, if you can just give us
a little bit of details about what is the analysis and the options that the
remittance working group provided to the administration. Thank you.
- MS PORTER: Hi, Francesco. To answer your first question, Special Envoy Malley is currently in Washington. Other than that, we don’t have anything to announce for anticipated travel. We’d certainly welcome you to go to the EU as the JCPOA coordinator.
- And on Cuba, I don’t have any other specifics or anything precise to give
you at this point, outside of what we’ve shared before, that the administration,
of course, continues to explore innovative options for Cuba. And, of course,
that would include digital payments. And the working group continues to
facilitate ways that would be beneficial to the people of Cuba, but at this time
we don’t, again, have any specific timetables or anything precise to share,
Joint Statement on Venezuela Negotiations
AUGUST 14, 2021
The following statement was released by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau.
We welcome the announcement that Venezuelan-led, comprehensive negotiations will soon begin in Mexico City, Mexico. We hope this process will lead to the restoration of the country’s democratic institutions and allow for all Venezuelans to express themselves politically through free and fair local, parliamentary, and presidential elections. We urge all parties to engage in good faith to reach enduring agreements that lead to a comprehensive solution to the Venezuelan crisis. The forces of the democratic opposition have worked hard to build a Unitary Platform, and we recognize the need for such unity to advance these negotiations. We appreciate the Kingdom of Norway’s constructive role in facilitating these negotiations.
We continue to call for the unconditional release of all those unjustly detained for political reasons, for the independence of political parties, for freedom of expression including for members of the press, and for an end to human rights abuses.
We call for electoral conditions that abide by international standards for democracy, beginning with the local and regional elections scheduled for November 2021.
We remain committed to supporting the Venezuelan people and to addressing Venezuela’s dire humanitarian crisis. We welcome further agreement among all political actors in Venezuela to allow for unfettered and transparent access to humanitarian assistance, to include food, medicine, vaccines, and other critical COVID-19 relief supplies.
We reiterate our willingness to review sanctions policies if the regime makes meaningful progress in the announced talks.
Department Press Briefing – August 11, 2021
NED PRICE, DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON
Today marks one month since the Cuban people took to the streets, making a call for freedom heard around the world. The Cuban Government responded with a brutal wave of repression unseen in decades. As of today, over 800 Cubans have been reported detained for peacefully demonstrating on July 11th. By some accounts, there may be hundreds more. Many are held incommunicado, without access to family or legal representation; secret, summary judicial proceedings lack fair trial guarantees and seek to repress, to silence, and make examples of anyone who added their voice to peaceful protests on July 11th.
Remarks by President Biden at Meeting with Cuban American Leaders
JULY 30, 2021•SPEECHES AND REMARKS
4:57 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m honored to welcome members of the Cuban American community, and Senator Menendez,
Senator [Congressman] Meeks
to discuss how the United States is going to continue to stand with the Cuban
people, who have suffered for decades and decades under a failed communist
Earlier this month, Cubans took to the street in a historic demonstration of the will of the people of Cuba. The regime responded with violence and repression, mass detentions, sham trials, and people disappearing who — who have spoken out. Just disappearing. Family members, I’m told, are not able — have no idea where their family members are back in Cuba. And — in a brazen violation of the rights of the Cuban people.
The Cuban Americans are hurting. They’re hurting because their loved ones are suffering. And it’s, quite frankly, intolerable.
So, I want the Cuban Americans to know that we — all around this table and myself included — see your pain, we hear your voices, and we hear the cries of freedom coming from the island.
The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people. We’ve brought to bear the strength of our diplomacy, rallying nations to speak out and increase pressure on the regime. And we’re holding the regime accountable.
Last week, we sanctioned the head of Cuban armed forces and the government — a government entity called the “Black Berets” for their involvement in suppressing protesters.
And, today, we are adding sanctions against the Revolutionary National Police, as well as individual sanctions against the chief and deputy chief — the chief and deputy chief.
And we’re going to continue to add sanctions on individuals that carry out — that carry out the regime’s abuses.
At the same time, we’re increasing direct support for the Cuban people by pursuing every option available to provide Internet access to help the Cuban bypass — the Cuban people bypass the censorship that’s being mandatorily imposed.
You always know something is not going well when the — a country will not allow — will not allow their people to be engaged in — be on the Internet and being able to make their case known around the world.
And we’re expanding our assistance to political prisoners and dissidents.
And the direct State — and I’ve directed the State Department and the Treasury Department to provide me, within one month, recommendations of how to maximize the flow of remittances to the Cuban people, without the Cuban military taking their cut.
And we’re working to increase U.S. staffing at our embassy while prioritizing the safety of our personnel.
So, we’ve got a lot to discuss with this group. So, we got — and mostly, I’m here to listen. I want to know what their ideas are. And you are some of the best experts on the issue.
The first person to bring this to my attention and to make sure that we were on top of this was Senator Menendez. And we think that — you know, the American — the Cuban American people are actually the best ambassadors for the Cuban people.
And so, my administration is going to make sure that their voices are included and uplifted at every step of the way. And we’re gong to get down to business.
So, thank you all for bothering to come in. I appreciate it.
Q Will there be more sanctions coming up, Mr. President? Or is that it, today?
THE PRESIDENT: I beg your pardon?
Q I said: Will there be more sanctions against Cuba coming up or are you stopping with what you did today?
THE PRESIDENT: We are — there will be more, unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba, which I don’t anticipate.
Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on Cuba
JULY 30, 2021•PRESS BRIEFINGS
2:32 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much, and good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us this afternoon. And welcome to an on-background conference call where we’ll be — we’ll be discussing Cuba.
For your reference, today we are joined by [senior administration official]. And from this point on, we’ll be referring to them as a “senior administration official,” per the ground rules of the call.
We’ll start with some quick remarks, and then we’ll open it up for question-and-answer. The contents of today’s briefing will be embargoed until 3:45 p.m. this afternoon. And as always, if you have follow-up questions, feel free to email me or the NSC press team distro at DL.NSC.Press@NSC.eop.gov.
And with that, I’ll turn the floor over to [a senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official]. It’s been a busy week at the White House and the administration in general on Latin America.
You all saw on Monday that Secretary Blinken — the State Department released a joint statement with 20 countries condemning the crackdown on peaceful protesters in — that came out into the streets all over Cuba on July 11th. We also rolled out this week, as you saw, the Central America collaborative migration and root causes strategy.
On Thursday, we met with the Mexican delegation to think really strategically about how we can look at migration management beyond the bilateral relationship and looking at a, kind of, hemispheric approach to migration management.
You saw that we put up the Federal Register notice on Haiti temporary protected status and it marked the date to — you know, to reflect since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. And we have rolled out the President’s intention to nominate a well-respected academic and former policymaker at the Defense Department, Frank Mora, as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.
What the President is doing today is — is part of what has been a very active period of engagement in response to the July 11th protests. And he is doing — he’s going to take the time to meet with members of the Cuban American community, as well as Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Greg Meeks, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
And basically, the President wants to hear directly from the community on not just the goings on and — but, frankly, what the President has said, which is how to hold the Cuban regime accountable for its violations of human rights, but also, at the same time, focusing on responding to the needs of the Cuban people.
So, what we are — in addition to that conversation, we have Treasury Department, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, is going to have sanctions that are going to be coming out today. I can’t get into specifics except to say that– except that one entity and two Cuban individuals are going to be designated pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for their role in human rights abuses.
You know, I already mentioned Frank Mora, that we are in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people, which we consider to be a right. We’re including all options, but we’re also looking at other ways to make sure that the Cuban people have the right to information, the right to communicate with each other, and the international community can really see the abuses that are taking place.
We are also going to be talking about humanitarian support for the Cuban people. And we’re going to have a few points to mention with regard to explaining the way forward for the remittance working group and just plans for the embassy staffing going forward.
So, but again, really the focus here is to hear from members of Congress that have been active on this issue from — from members of the Cuban American community. And it follows on engagements by Congressman Cedric Richmond, senior advisor to the President, meeting with a much larger group of members of the community, but also meetings that I have had, at the request of Senator Menendez, with the Cuban American National Foundation, but also Cuba Decide, to hear all points of views on Cuba and really to try to do what’s best to provide the President and the Secretary of State with our best objective analysis and recommendations on the way forward following the July 11th protests in Cuba.
So, I’ll leave it there. I’m happy to enter into any — answer any questions.
Q Thank you. And thank you, [senior administration official], for doing this. And thank you, [senior administration official]. One question regarding to the team at the State Department that is studying the possibilities and measures in order to help Cubans with the remittances and Internet without helping or providing support, if I can say that in that way, to the regime: Is there any specific measure that you can advance or tell us about these two possibilities?
I mean, sending remittances without using the Cuban bank system is quite difficult. There is no other bank system in Cuba that is not controlled by the regime. And providing Internet, it seems that it would be a kind of activity that the — it would violate the Cuban sovereignty of the territory, and it could create maybe a counterproductive situation.
I mean, what are the real options besides just repeating that you are studying that and you’re studying and trying to identify technical solutions? Is there anything concrete that you can tell us today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. I’m not going to get out ahead of the President. I think anything that’s discussed at the meeting will — will be rolled out afterward. But, you know, you hit two very — two, you know, very real challenges when it comes to Internet connectivity, but also the issue of remittances.
On the latter, look, I’ll say that technology is advancing every day. And in the example of Venezuela, for example, we’ve actually been able to roll out licenses that have allowed, you know, the interim government to send money directly to people in Venezuela.
And so, what I think is really important here is we have looked at recommendations that even came out under the previous administration. They put together a Internet communications working group that issued a series of recommendations. We looked at those. But then, what we want to do is, we put together a U.S. government group together. They’re going to consult with, you know, members of Congress, with the experts, and try to make some recommendations on how — on what’s the best way to go forward.
The point here is — again, is maximizing the benefit to the Cuban people, and that really has to be the focus of everything that we do in this situation.
With regard to Internet connectivity, there are no silver bullets. If it’s something that could be done easily, it would have been done already in places like Iran and in other closed regimes. You know, but — we see the access to — we see the censorship of information as a violation of human rights. And so we’re going to explore every option possible to be able to guarantee that access to that information.
But also, in a — you know, in a transparent manner, what our Cuban democracy programs and our Google programs do is — is actually support, you know, civil society, artists, musicians to be able to do what they do without any sort of ideological objective, but just to do — practice their craft and — but that also includes access to information, the ability to communicate with each other, but also the importance of making sure that that the international community is not blind to the abuses and the crackdown that’s being perpetrated by the Cuban regime.
Q Hello. Thank you for taking my question. Here at the White House, we’ve seen massive protests lately that included thousands of Cuban Americans who are asking for more action from this administration — that includes Republican legislators, as well.
I have two questions. The first one is: Is this administration — or the President, for that matter — meeting with any Republican legislators — not necessarily today, but maybe in the following days or in the previous days?
And also, can you give us full — not a full, but maybe like some — a list of the participants that are going to be taking part in this meeting with the President later on today?
And is the administration — has the administration a set plan towards Cuba? Or is it open to new ideas that might come out either from the participants today or from legislators in Congress?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for the question. So, look, we’ve been — we’ve been listening to the protesters, you know, when — I’m here on the weekends. And, you know, we’ve been listening to them and we’ve been talking to members of the community. And I will say that, when I say “we,” I mean the administration.
The State Department has been regularly briefing members of Congress from the House and the Senate. And, of course, we — I think the dialogues that Congressman Richmond, that I have engaged in, but also at the State Department and others have been engaging in are to he- — are to listen to Cuban Americans.
It’s important to really listen to their voices and what they’re calling for, and — but also to — really to make sure that we keep the focus not on the United States or the conflict with the United States and Cuba, but rather on the Cuban people and the rights that they’re demanding. And the focus the international community needs to be to stand up for them, to stand up for their rights, and to make sure that we’re doing everything to support them, including, by any means, to prov- — you know, provide — efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.
As you know, those who are political dissidents are be — are abandoned by the government. They don’t have access to basic necessities. They don’t have access to hospital services. They’re cut off — they and their families are cut off. And so, I think it’s important for the international community to stand up for these people.
So, I mean, I guess — you asked if the President had already made up his mind on Cuba policy or if he’s willing to hear more from the community. My response to that is that that’s why he’s holding these meetings, but also why he’s receiving daily updates on the situation and why the State Department primarily has been engaging regularly with members of Congress to hear their views.
And that’s why, for example, the remittance working group is one that is going to be engaging with members of Congress to try to get, you know, as much guidance as possible. I mean, I don’t know — I think that answers your question.
Q Hi, good afternoon. Thanks for doing this call. Just to clarify, should we expect an announcement today on Internet access or on remittances or not?
And secondly, on the sanctions, I know you don’t want to give information in advance of the OFAC release, but just a general question: How effective do you think that these sanctions on Cuban officials can be, since 50 years of embargo and sanctions have not succeeded in changing their (inaudible) behavior?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, on the second question, that’s an important question. Look, what we’re doing through these individual sanctions, as the President has said, is that we are focusing on individuals and entities that are involved in the crackdown and the violation of human rights by the regime. Part of it is to layer on sanctions, but the other one is to make sure that we are keeping these individuals in the spotlight not just on the international community, but that the Cuban people know that the United States is supporting them and is trying to defend them.
So, we’re going to — as the President said, the sanctions are rolled out that — last week were just the beginning. And we’re going to try to keep — we’re going to do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner so that they can talk about — keep the conversation on the — on the rights of the Cuban people and their — and their right to manifest peacefully.
And so the other — sorry, what was the other question you had? I didn’t get the first question.
Q Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, we can hear you. Sorry about that. Go ahead.
Q Oh, okay. Sorry. My question was whether we can expect an announcement today on —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Q — (inaudible) remittances.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you. So, look, we are going to be — we’re going to be announcing a series of things. And, you know, those include efforts to improve Internet connectivity and other means to make sure that we are supporting the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with each other. And we see information as something that should be treated as a human right.
Q Thank you very much. To follow up on that: Are you going to be announcing anything on remittances? Are you going to be announcing anything on our diplomats going back to Havana and theirs coming back to Washington? And if the President wanted to hear from all points of view — at least you haven’t mentioned any Republicans who are going to be present — is Senator Rubio or any other Republican members or senators going to be present?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thank you, Andrea.
So, he is going to be making — he is going to be making announcements on both. Either in the meeting or afterward, I think he’s going to be — some of it he’ll mention, you know, at the camera spray at the top. Some of it may come up at the meeting.
I think the focus is going to be on hearing from members of the community. And — but we do have plans to provide more information on the Remittance Working Group that he directed the U.S. government to form and plans for U.S. Embassy augmentation.
What I’ll say is it that, look — given the protests of July 11th, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people. And if we can do that in a way that is — that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that — that we will undertake. But we’ll be able to say something more about that — the meeting.
So, what the focus of the meeting today — and the participants, and I can mention some of them — is — are members of the Cuban American community. They are going to be the ones that are going to be the main speakers here. And we invited the respective Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to join the conversation as well.
But we’re going to have individuals like Felice Gorordo, who is the CEO of eMerge Americas and has worked for Republican and Democratic administrations.
We’re going to also be hearing from Yotuel Romero, who is the Grammy Award winning artist and activist that wrote the song “Patria y Vida.”
We have, also, members of the religious community — Father Fernando Eduardo Heria, Director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cuba.
And actually, several other people have been — have been invited.
But again, in the conversations that we’ve been having, we’ve been meeting with people across the political spectrum and folks that have a range of views.
And so, I think it’s going to be only the beginning of a regular engagement with the Cuban American community so that we can develop the right policies to support the Cuban people.
Q Hi. This is Anne Gearan with the Post. It — following on a couple of questions about the Internet connectivity: I mean, can you give us some specifics here, please, about what might be possibilities?
I mean, one thing that’s been reported is the potential to do balloons off the island. Other things that have been reported have been ways for the United States to direct Internet toward Cuba. Are those what’s under discussion here? Can you help us out a little bit so that we have something that we can actually report at 3:45?
And secondly, on the Internet, is there anything that you all could do in terms of connectivity that could not be blocked by the regime? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I can’t offer you many details on what we’re doing or what we’re going to be announcing because I don’t want to get ahead of the President. But what I’m saying is we’ve been — we heard, you know, the — Governor Ron DeSantis wrote a letter to the President. Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter. We’ve been hearing also in our consultations with — the administration’s consultations with members of Congress, and we’ve been exploring all those options.
So, the administration, (inaudible) the Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury, the FCC have been looking at what rulemaking authorizations, licenses we can provide that would allow any of those options to work. But we’re looking at — when we’re talking to private sector companies and looking at all the legal and technical restrictions to doing that, it’s challenging because whether you’re looking at satellite technology or balloons or anything, a lot of those signals are fairly easy to block. But we have to explore any and all options to — exhaust any and all options to provide Internet connectivity.
The other point I’ll mention, just in terms of — and this is, obviously, open source information — is that the regime actually cut Internet for, I think, between 30 minutes and an hour, maybe a little bit more, and after that was involved in selective blocking of websites and areas where there were specific protests.
In that regard, there are tools and there’s technology that civil society actors are able to use to circumvent censorship. There’s been a dramatic increase in their use of VPN technology, (inaudible) proxies. And so all of those are — you know, it’s all unclassified, it’s all out there. And it’s really about making sure that the Cuban American people have — or the Cuban people have the training and have the technical know-how and the tools to be able to do that.
And obviously, the goal is to support it so that the Cuban people can communicate with each other. And that information about the regime’s abuses can make it out into the — and be seen by the international community.
So we have funds in the Open Technology Fund. There’s work that we have with international partners. And so there are a lot of different options, and we’re trying to exhaust all of them to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to support those Cubans that are out in the streets — that were out in the streets demanding their rights.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And this is [senior administration official], and we’re just about out of time. I just want to say thanks to everyone for joining, especially since I know we also have the briefing going on concurrently — the White House briefing.
As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to “a senior administration official.” The contents of the call are embargoed until 3:45. If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to me, and otherwise, have a great day.
30 July 2021
Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Q And a question with respect to Cuba and the ongoing policy review. I know there's a meeting today, but has there been any movement on actionable steps? Specifically, does the President plan to lift travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, and make it easier for Cuban Americans to send money to their relatives on the island, both of which are issues he campaigned on?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, no, and both important issues that we understand to the Cuban people. So we're not going to preview any specific actions here. That is not something that I'm going to do from the podium.
I will say that on the remit- -- remittances, this is a complex issue that requires coordination with experts that will help to inform the administration's policy. So, at the President's direction, the Department of Treasury and State will form a remittance working group to review available options to establishing those channels.
Q Karine, may I follow up, please, on Cuba? Right -- right back here. May I follow up on Cuba, please? Thank you so much. You may have noticed those protests last week across the street from the White House. I don't know if you or anybody from the White House happened to speak to those protesters, but I did. And it’s anecdotal, of course, but they say they see no difference between the policy of President Biden towards Cuba and the policy of former President Obama towards Cuba. Is the approach the same of those two Presidents -- of President Biden currently and the former President, President Obama?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'm going to be really clear here. So, since day one, we have said many times -- many, many times -- that the Cuban Americans are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba, is what I said at the beginning. Today, the President is going to sit down and -- to meet with Cuban Americans, leaders at the White House -- that's what he's going to do in just a few hours -- to discuss the demonstrations and the administration's response. And so -- including applying new sanctions on Cuba -- on Cuban leaders and establishing Internet access for the Cuban people. So, we want to lift up the Cuban people, and that is going to be our focus. On July 22nd, The Treasury -- the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assistant [Assets] Control sanctioned one of the Cuban individuals and one Cuban entity for serious human rights abuses and the repression of peaceful pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11th. So we are going to continue to lift up the Cuban American people that -- I'm sorry, the Cuban people -- and we're going to have a conversation. As I just mentioned, the President will have one today, and we'll probably have more to read out from that.
State Department Press Briefing – July 30, 2021
Let’s go to Michele Kelemen, please.
Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on Continuing Crackdown in Cuba
JULY 22, 2021•STATEMENTS AND RELEASES
condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to
prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the
Cuban people into silence. The
Cuban people have the same right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
as all people. The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have
taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime.
Today, my Administration is imposing new sanctions targeting elements of the Cuban regime responsible for this crackdown—the head of the Cuban military and the division of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior driving the crackdown—to hold them accountable for their actions. This is just the beginning–the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.
As we hold the Cuban regime accountable, our support for the Cuban people is unwavering and we are making sure Cuban Americans are a vital partner in our efforts to provide relief to suffering people on the Island. We are working with civil society organizations and the private sector to provide internet access to the Cuban people that circumvents the regime’s censorship efforts. We are reviewing our remittance policy to determine how we can maximize support to the Cuban people. And we are committed to restaffing our embassy in Havana to provide consular services to Cubans and enhance our ability to engage with civil society, while ensuring the safety of U.S. diplomats serving in Cuba.
Advancing human dignity and freedom is a top priority for my Administration, and we will work closely with our partners throughout the region, including the Organization of American States, to pressure the regime to immediately release wrongfully detained political prisoners, restore internet access, and allow the Cuban people to enjoy their fundamental rights.
Sanctioning Cuban Security Forces in Response to Violent Repression of Protests
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
JULY 22, 2021Starting on July 11, tens of thousands of Cubans in dozens of cities and towns throughout their country took to the streets to peacefully demand respect for their fundamental freedoms and a better future. In response, the Cuban regime violently repressed the protests, arresting hundreds of demonstrators simply for exercising their human rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The actions of Cuban security forces and violent mobs mobilized by Cuban Communist Party First Secretary Miguel Diaz-Canel lay bare the regime’s fear of its own people and unwillingness to meet their basic needs and aspirations.
Today, the United States is imposing sanctions on Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba Álvaro López Miera and the Cuban Ministry of the Interior’s Special National Brigade or “Boinas Negras” (Black Berets). López Miera and the Special National Brigade have been involved in suppressing the protests, including through physical violence and intimidation. We take this action pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
We stand with every Cuban seeking a government that respects the human rights and dignity of the Cuban people. We will continue to take action to promote accountability for the Cuban government’s human rights abuses, including through additional sanctions pursuant to Global Magnitsky, as appropriate.
I expect you all have seen the statement from the President, the statement from Secretary Blinken, the statement from the Department of the Treasury, regarding our latest action to hold to account the Cuban regime for its abuses in the aftermath of the protests, the peaceful protests in Cuba. And so, with that, I have nothing but my eagerness and happiness to take your questions.
Sorry, on Cuba.
Remarks by PresidentBiden and Chancellor Merkel of the Federal Republic of Germany in Press Conference
White House January 20
Q And on the Cuba meeting that happened last night —
There is a – there’s news of a working group on remittances. Can you explain a little bit about that? Is there an intention at all to restart remittances in some way, even if it’s in a different way from before?
Sure, let me give you a little more context. And you heard this from the White House, and my colleague at the White House I believe spoke to this earlier today. But as you know, we have consistently stood with the Cuban people, including in the context of the recent protests across the island nation. We will continue to support the Cuban people in their legitimate aspirations for human rights, for democracy, for the values that have for far too long – since 1959 at least – been denied to them.
As part of that, we will always look for ways to support them but also to the Cuban regime accountable. This includes our efforts to build international pressure against the abuses of the regime, designating sanctions against those responsible for the violence, for the repression that has followed the recent protests. And when it comes to assisting the Cubans, we’ll look at any number of ways. And that includes – you mentioned both remittances, and we also spoke to helping to facilitate internet access as well.
When it comes to remittances, as you heard, we will form a remittances working group to identify the most effective ways to get remittances – this is important – directly into the hands of the Cuban people. Beyond that, we are also reviewing our plans to augment staffing at our embassy in Havana to facilitate the consular activities, the engagement with civil society, and to make sure we have an appropriate security posture as well.
When it comes to internet access, we are working with the private sector as well as with Congress, which, of course, has a keen interest in all of this, to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people and will also leverage our international partners, including international organizations, to do what we can to increase humanitarian assistance flows to Cuba.
Now, when it comes to the other side of the equation, holding the regime accountable, the Treasury, specifically via their Office of Foreign Assets Control, will continue to explore designating Cuban officials who are responsible for what we have seen – namely the violence, the repression, the human rights violations – again, against these peaceful protestors in Cuba who were and are doing nothing more than exercising their universal rights.
We’re also working diligently with the international community to collectively condemn this repression and support the Cuban people, who very clearly are demanding the freedom and the rights that have long been denied to them.
When it comes to remittances, Shaun, the administration, as I said before, is focused on allowing such transfers only if we can guarantee that the money flows directly into the hands of the Cuban people. We are going to, as we explore this issue, make sure that we are doing everything we can to see to it that those proceeds go to the Cuban people and that they do not go into the regime’s coffers. Again, this is a regime that has denied its people of resources and of rights, and I think we have seen that come to the fore in Cuba in recent days. And we’re, as you heard from the White House, very closely studying how we might affect this going forward.
Can I just press you on one point about – you were saying planning to augment staff at the embassy. Is that something that’s going to happen imminently? And what have you done specifically to engage civil society? Could you explain a bit more what these extra people will be doing?
Sure. The staffing at our embassy will serve to enhance our diplomatic, our engagement – our diplomatic activity, our engagement with civil society, our consular service engagement, all of which will be in service of helping the Cuban people to secure greater degrees of human rights, of freedom, of the universal rights that have been denied to them for far too long.
So I don’t have anything to offer in terms of time frame, but we do know that if we are going to be doing all we can to support the aspirations of the Cuban people we need to have a presence on the ground that will appropriately position us to do just that.
Yeah, I have two follow-ups. Last week, President Biden said pretty clearly that he was not going to consider remittances. I’m wondering what changed between that conversation with Chancellor Merkel and today. I think you flicked at it a little bit by saying that you want to make sure that the money is going to go to the Cuban people, but that was something that could have been considered last week as well. So, what’s changed in the last few days?
And then also when you’re talking about augmenting staffing in Embassy Havana, what kind of precautions is the State Department taking to make sure that they are not victim to some of the illnesses that we’ve seen in years past there? Thanks.
Thank you. So, what you heard from President Biden last week was the concern that I expressed today, and that is namely the fact that we are going to do everything we can as we study this issue to devise ways to ensure that these remittances – that in many cases are hard-earned funds from Cuban Americans and their associates back here in the United States to Cubans on the island – to ensure that they go directly to the people. That has been the concern with remittances in the past.
Look, we are all about devising ways that we can support the Cuban people, but we have to make sure that these tactics, these tools, these procedures in this case, do, in fact, support the Cuban people. We’ve engaged in a number of consultations, including with senior members of Congress on this. And we are confident that through studying the issue we may be able to devise ways to do just that, to affect these remittances, to ensure that the funds get into the hands of the Cuban people, while ensuring that they do not, on the other hand, go into the coffers of the regime.
Is it fair then to assume – sorry – that after the President’s comments members of Congress and others in the government said, “Hey, let’s take another look at this. There is a way we could at least study getting the money directly to the Cuban people, as opposed to it going to the regime”?
As we have seen these peaceful protests take place on the island, the Cuban people demand the legitimate aspirations for human rights, for greater degrees of freedom, for liberty. We have made clear that we are going to thoroughly investigate any, and all ways that we can support those legitimate aspirations. We have been in regular contact with members of Congress, of course both before the protests of recent days and in the aftermath. We have heard good ideas from members of Congress; we’ve shared our ideas with members of Congress and other important stakeholders as well. So, this idea – of course, there’s nothing new about this particular idea. It’s always been on the table. But what is new is the announcement that we are going to study it very carefully, very closely to determine what and how we might be able to move forward in a way that supports the Cuban people without adding to the coffers of the regime.
To your second question —
Yes. Thank you.
— and staffing at the embassy, of course we have spoken very clearly about the priority we attach to the safety, the security, the well-being of our personnel around the world. We have also spoken just yesterday of the unexplained health incidents that have plagued our personnel around the world, and it’s no secret that Havana was a site of some of these incidents. So, as you know, I am not in a position to detail security precautions or measures that we may take, but every time we deploy our personnel overseas, we do so taking into account precautions and doing everything we can to see to it that our people are protected, that they have what they need to do their job effectively, and that their safety, well-being, and welfare is an utmost priority.
So, in other words, you have confidence that Embassy Havana and its environs are safe for diplomats in order for them to return. There’s not a concern that this – these illnesses could crop up again. There’s —
Well, so what we said is that we’re going to review planning to augment personnel back at the embassy. We are taking every consideration into account, as you expect we would. The safety and security concerns are certainly one of those issues we’re going to take into account. But we’re just starting this process, so I don’t want to prejudge it right now.
Ned, on the remittances, I’m just a little confused about how you – when you say you want it to go directly to the Cuban people. Well, obviously that’s what – every administration has wanted that. But is there a percentage fee or a percentage of an amount that is sent to Cuba that you’re okay with that is taken by – a processing fee, administrative fee, whatever you want to call it – by a bank, which is obviously state-run, or a state-controlled enterprise, or one that has to pay the government, like Western Union or something like that? Is there a maximum percentage that you’re prepared to allow?
Because short of flying remittances – cash, from remittances into the embassy and then having people come to the embassy to hand it out to people, I don’t see how you’re going to get – it’s got – there’s a transaction here that doesn’t involve – unless you are going to do that – that doesn’t involve U.S. officials. So, when you say you want the money to go directly to the Cuban people, is there an amount that can – that is acceptable to go to a Cuban Government-owned or controlled entity?
Well, of course, there’s not an amount that is acceptable to us to go into the coffers of the Cuban Government. After our – after all, our goal is to support the Cuban people and to help them achieve their aspirations, the aspirations that this very regime has, for far too long, denied to the Cuban people. So again, what we are doing is forming a remittance working group to identify the most effective ways to get remittances directly into their hands.
I get that. But does that mean that no fee is the only thing that’s acceptable? No percentage cut of whatever is sent is – there can’t be any —
Again, when it comes to this working group, which was just announced yesterday and spoken to today, when it comes to our planning for Embassy Havana, these are – they are just now – the planning for these are just now underway, so I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. But it’s something we’re looking at very, very closely.
Simon. Sorry, yeah.
Staying on Cuba, you mentioned you’re trying to – working with Congress and the private sector to try and help expand internet access. Does that mean you’re sort of looking towards a private sector solution to this rather than, say, the U.S. military? (Inaudible) happen in other countries often (inaudible) private sector (inaudible) want to go through that route.
Well, we’re working closely, yes, with the private sector, but we’re also working with Congress, as we are across many of these lines of effort, to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people. We’re – we will be actively collaborating with our private sector partners to identify ways that may, in fact, be creative to ensure that the Cuban people have access to the free flow of information on the internet.
You’ve heard us say this before, but in the interim and right now – today – we call on Cuba’s leaders to reinstate and to maintain access to all internet and telecommunications services for all people within its borders. We support, just as in Cuba as we do around the world, unrestricted access to the global, open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet, and we condemn actions by the Cuban Government to restrict this access.
Not only in Cuba but across the board, we very carefully examine and provide funding to support the development, the global deployment, and operation of the latest available secure and reliable technical solutions to internet censorship, to content blocking, and shutdowns. Our programming makes secure circumvention and communication tools available to internet users everywhere who may be – who may seek access to blocked websites and social media platforms, and that includes on Cuba.
We currently provide over $60 million in funding worldwide each year for programs to support that unrestricted access to the global, open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet. These programs are so important to us precisely because they can help to promote human rights, fundamental freedoms, the free flow of information online, regardless of national boundaries or frontiers, consistent with international human rights norms and standards. We believe that the Cuban people deserve what people around the world deserve, and we’ll be looking at ways to assist that going forward.
Staying on Cuba, let’s – sure, yeah.
One more. NBC News has confirmed the administration is looking at over 200 possible cases of these unexplained health incidents. Has the administration gotten any closer to determining who or what is behind them?
Well, we have spoken to this in some detail, knowing that there’re going to be certain details that we’re not in a position to share broadly. But you heard me, in fact, say this yesterday, that the State Department is committed to ensuring the health, the safety, the well-being of our personnel and their families, and we are working diligently with our partners in the interagency to determine the cause of these incidents. The Secretary was asked about this on the Hill. Other members of the administration have been asked about that. We’re not in a position – we don’t yet know, precisely, the cause of these incidents, but we continue to encourage members of our mission communities around the world to report a potential UHI, or unexplained health incident, to their post’s security and medical personnel.
We are investigating and reviewing reports of incidents from all around the world. We’re also not in a position to confirm numbers. But as you know, Ambassador Spratlen, whom Secretary Blinken appointed to head the Health Incidents Response Task Force, along with our Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon, have been deeply engaged in this. And there have been communications to the entire workforce, to targeted members of the workforce; they have met with members of our workforce who have been – who have suffered from these unexplained health incidents. We are going to continue to do all we can to ensure that we are providing these employees with all the support they need as they deal with this going forward.
The president of Cuba, Diaz-Canel, said that you guys are acquiescing to a small right-wing minority in Florida and their whims. Are you really acquiescing to their desires and their perceptions and their politics?
Said, what we are doing is standing up for the same principles and values that we support around the world. It’s human rights, it’s democracy, it’s basic civil liberties and civil rights that the people of Cuba have been denied for far too long. So look, for us, we have made very clear that human rights are at the center of our foreign policy. The Cuban Government, every government around the world should take us at our word that human rights will be an anchor of our policy. That’s precisely what you’re seeing and what we have said in the mechanisms of support over the years that the United States has provided to the Cuban people, and it is precisely what we mean when we say that we will consider additional forms of support, including any humanitarian support for the Cuban people.
Again, we are standing up for and supporting the same rights in Cuba that we do around the world.