A small group of demonstrators draped with Cuban flags covered themselves in fake blood as they protested Saturday outside the White House, urging President Joe Biden to take action to aid Cubans amid unrest in the communist country.
Three adults and two children dressed in “Young Pioneer” school uniforms joined hundreds of other protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue, laying down on the sidewalk in front of the White House. Other protesters chanted “Freedom for Cuba” and carried signs, including one that read “You’re sitting by while we die,” and another that said, “Cuba’s blood is on your hands.” Another sign read, “Biden, history will remember how you turn your back to Cuba & all the Cubans who voted for you.”
Massive demonstrations erupted last week in Cuba as citizens of the island nation demanded an end to the communist dictatorship, which has left them suffering in poverty. Cubans took to the street in rarely seen demonstrations to protest the impoverished conditions of the island and their lack of freedom under the dictatorial regime.
“In a country known for repressive crackdowns on dissent, the rallies were widely viewed as astonishing,” The New York Times reported. “Activists and analysts called it the first time that so many people had openly protested against the Communist government since the so-called Maleconazo uprising, which exploded in the summer of 1994 into a huge wave of Cubans leaving the country by sea.”
“The people are dying of hunger!” one woman shouted during the protest, the Times reported. “Our children are dying of hunger!” Other chants included “We want freedom” and “We want vaccines.”
Biden and his administration have been slow to act. At first, Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, claimed the protests were caused by concern over COVID-19. “Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages,” Chung wrote on Twitter. “We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.”
But critics immediately blasted that claim. “The Cuban people have been denied the right to ‘peaceful assembly’ for over 60 years,” conservative activist Heydi Geroy tweeted. “This is so disrespectful in so many levels to the thousands of Cubans who have faced the firing squad for just trying to peacefully protest! @WHAAsstSecty have you been living under a rock?!”
Then Biden’s Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned Cubans who try to flee by sea to the U.S. that they will not be allowed into the country.
Mayorkas, who is Cuban, said the Biden administration stands “in solidarity with the Cuban people and their call for freedom from the repression and economic suffering that the Cuban’s authoritarian regime is causing.”
“The Coast Guard, along with our state, local, and federal partners, are monitoring any activity that may indicate increases in unsafe and irregular maritime migration in the Florida straits, including unpermitted vessel departures from Florida to Cuba,” Mayorkas said. “The time is never right to attempt migration by sea. To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking. Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
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