The Cuban regime deprives citizens of fundamental freedoms, including the right to redress grievances, or even to receive international humanitarian aid. When tons of aid were sent last year, donated by Cubans in the United States directly to the Cuban people and civil society for immediate distribution in the middle of the covid-19 crisis, the aid was stolen by the regime. Cuban authorities persecute the most vulnerable and impose restrictions on entrepreneurs. Control over the population is maintained by increasing repression. Nevertheless, more and more Cubans are expressing their need — and desire — for freedom.
As the Cuban government and its allies press the Biden administration to make unilateral concessions that would benefit only the dictatorship, it’s important to highlight that these calls do not represent the best interests of our people. Some are seeking to impose a false choice between the policies of the Obama and the Trump administrations. Biden should instead listen directly to the Cuban people who live on the island, as well as to those forced into exile in the United States. There is a third way that builds on the learned experiences of previous administrations and would serve both nations.
The United States must stand for the Cuban people’s right to democracy and to enjoy free, fair and multiparty elections. The Biden administration must recognize the members of the opposition and civil society in Cuba and in the diaspora as valid interlocutors. Biden and Congress should make no unilateral concessions, but rather ask Cuba to make irreversible steps toward the recognition of fundamental human rights. These steps should include: the unconditional release of all political prisoners; the end of repression; and respect in law and in practice for freedom of expression, association — including independent political parties — public assembly and economic freedom.
Biden could also promote humanitarian aid from the American people that would directly help Cuban citizens and civil society, preventing any kind of intervention by or benefits to the regime and its military leadership, which nowadays keeps the profits and all the hard currency on the island. The Biden administration should hold accountable all Cuban authorities involved in serious human rights abuses. The president should impose individual political, financial and diplomatic sanctions and consider utilizing the Global Magnitsky Act.
My father, Oswaldo Payá, was a leader of the Cuban opposition and an important voice in the international community. His life was taken by agents of the Cuban regime in 2012. In response to this attack, then-Sen. John Kerry called for “an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá.” The Cuban authorities have refused to do so, thus demonstrating again the impunity of the regime. Our hemisphere has paid a high price for affording decades of impunity for the Cuban dictatorship.
The regime remains committed to destabilizing democracy in Latin America, with serious consequences for U.S. national security. In Venezuela, Cuba continues to prop up the regime of Nicolás Maduro, with devastating repercussions for the Venezuelan people, who — like Cubans — continue to flee repression and economic crisis. Democratic regime change in Cuba is essential for peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere and also the way to prevent the dictatorship from generating another mass exodus.
Biden should consider denouncing the regime’s illicit activities, including the exploitative use of the “medical brigades,” and seek to prosecute in courts those individuals linked to criminal and terrorist activities. He should ask other nations in our hemisphere to take similar steps. He should also promote the participation of Cuban independent civil society groups in the Summit of the Americas to be held in the United Sates, and veto the participation of the Cuban regime until it complies with the articles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
All Cubans dream of a country without today’s ideological intolerance, political apartheid and economic exclusion. Many Cubans are working to make that dream come true through initiatives such as Cuba Decide, a comprehensive effort to empower Cuban citizens and pressure the regime so that it finally submits to the will of the people and accepts a binding plebiscite with strict democratic preconditions giving way to change. Our efforts seek to promote a nonpartisan approach to Cuba policy.
Years ago, my father declared that the best outcome between the United States and Cuba would be to “proclaim goodwill between our two people: we want freedom, and friendship.”
President Biden can do what previous presidents did not and accomplish both goals.
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