President Joe Biden highlighted new sanctions on the Cuban police force and outlined ongoing efforts to boost internet access for the Cuban people as he held a meeting with Cuban-American leaders at the White House Friday afternoon.

What You Need To Know

  • President Biden highlighted new sanctions on the Cuban police force and outlined ongoing efforts to boost internet access for the Cuban people Friday

  • He met Cuban-American leaders as the U.S. announced the new actions and reviews other policies

  • The Treasury first announced sanctions on the National Revolutionary Police Friday, citing human rights abuses

  • Thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Washington, D.C. Monday to call for freedom for their relatives from their country's communist government

The president’s meeting comes as the Cuban regime continues to cut some internet connectivity and block certain websites in the country while Cubans in Havana and elsewhere keep up protests against the communist dictatorship and food and medicine shortages, after first taking to the streets in a rare uprising on July 11.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions Friday on Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police force and its leadership under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world. 

The Cuban police arrested an estimated 500 people when protests broke out earlier this month, and many are still detained, with no way to communicate with family members about their status and questions about the charges they're being held on.

President Biden also said Friday that the U.S. was looking at "pursuing every option available to provide internet access," to Cubans, though he did not provide details. A senior administration official told reporters earlier that the government was “in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications.”

Florida Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, have urged President Biden to provide internet to Cubans via balloons or satellite.

In addition, BIden announced that he had directed the State and Treasury Departments to recommend within one month how to "maximize the flow of remittances to the Cuban people without the Cuban military taking their cut." One concern about remittances — or money sent by Cubans in the U.S. to their relatives back home — is that they could land in the hands of the government instead.

“I want the Cuban-Americans to know that we, all around this table and myself included, see your pain. We hear your voices,” President Biden said at the top of the meeting. “We're holding the regime accountable.”

The meeting at the White House included National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, former Miami mayor Manny Díaz, Felice Gorordo, CEO of eMERGE Americas, and Yotuel Romero, one of the authors of the song “Patria y Vida,” which has become a rallying cry for the Cuban protests this month.

The chairmen of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committees — Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., — were also invited, an administration official said.

Biden’s meeting comes a few days after thousands of Cuban-Americans marched outside the White House on Monday demanding freedom for their country and family members still living there.

"The calls on the street are for liberty, for freedom, for democracy, for the ability to elect our leader. They're 62 years of a president that you don't like. Imagine having that," one protester, Melissa Baralt, told Spectrum News. "That's why so many Cubans came to the U.S. Because here you have the ability to matter. And there you don't matter."

The protest began at the White House and ended nearly two miles away at the Cuban embassy.


Cubans protest in Washington, D.C. on Monday, July 26, calling for an end to the communist dictatorship in their home country. (Sam Lisker/Spectrum News)


“We're trying to get the dictatorship out of Cuba. Our people are dying over there,” a protester named Dania told Spectrum News. “We need human help. We need Biden to get involved.”

Some protesters called for more humanitarian aid while others called for a military intervention, which the Biden administration has not acknowledged as an option.

The White House has previously released a fact sheet outlining their actions so far on Cuba.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued a joint statement on the issue along with 20 other countries, condeming the mass arrests of protesters and calling on the government to respect their rights, including access to information.

"We call on the Cuban government to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the Cuban people without fear of arrest and detention," the statement read.

José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s director for the Americas, said protecting internet access in Cuba must be one of the top priorities of the Biden administration.

“The growing access to the internet on the island has been a true revolution that has allowed the population to communicate, organize protests and report abuses almost immediately — something that would have been impossible a few years ago,” he stold The Associated Press.

Regarding the sanctions, Vivanco said their value is “mostly symbolic,” because it is not realistic to think that they alone will change the situation on the island. He said one way to stop human rights violations in Cuba is a “multilateral and coordinated condemnation,” along with moving toward a policy that puts an end to the current embargo.