Rubio on Biden Administration’s Response to Cuba Protests: ‘This Is About Freedom. Say It!’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 12, 2021 | 4:17am EDT
Cuban protestors in Havana on Sunday chanted “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” (Photo by Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images)
Cuban protestors in Havana on Sunday chanted “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” (Photo by Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images)

( – A pair of Republican lawmakers took a State Department official to task on Sunday after she tweeted a message about rare street protests in Cuba that made no reference to the anti-government sentiments being expressed.

One of them, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also slammed the Biden administration more broadly for its low-key response to the protests and the communist regime’s signaling that it will deal harshly with dissent.

“Why is it so hard? Why are they so uncomfortable coming forward and just condemning this evil socialist, Marxist regime?” he asked.

Rubio was speaking in a video clip posted online shortly before 10 PM eastern time.

As of then, a review of official Twitter feeds found no tweets relating to the Cuba situation from President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the White House, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the State Department, State Department spokesman Ned Price, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, or the U.S. Mission to the U.N.

Earlier – shortly before 5:30 PM eastern – Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary in the State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, had posted a tweet – possibly the first relating to the Cuba situation from a ranking administration official.

“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 said. “We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.”

The U.S. Embassy in Havana then tweeted the same message, in Spanish.

Reports from Cuba, and messages and videos posted on social media from the island indicated that food shortages and coronavirus pandemic concerns were among the issues that brought people onto the streets in a number of cities.

But slogans being chanted included Libertad! (“Freedom!”), Abajo la dictadura! (“Down with the dictatorship!”), No tenemos miedo! (“We are not afraid!”), and Patria y vida (“Homeland and life”) – a reaction to the regime’s revolutionary slogan Patria o muerte (“Homeland or death”).

“No they’re chanting LIBERTAD,” tweeted Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) in response to Chung’s tweet. “Stop playing cover for communists and support the Cuban people. My god. Why is that so hard for you.”

Rubio called Chung’s tweet “ridiculous.”

“People in #Cuba are protesting 62 years of socialism, lies, tyranny & misery not ‘expressing concern about rising COVID cases/deaths.’ Why is it so hard for @potus & the people in his administration to say that?”

In his subsequent video clip, Rubio expanded.

“She makes it sound like what’s happening in Cuba is about people who are upset about COVID, so they’re protesting. This is not just about COVID,” he said. “Yeah, of course COVID is the icing on the cake here, because you’ve got a socialist regime that says to people, ‘you have no freedom, you have no independence, you have no ability to speak freely, but we’ve really got a good healthcare system.’”

“They don’t. People are dying at their homes – in their homes. Their healthcare system is not this great system. And, of course COVID has a role to play, but this began well before COVID. These people are frustrated. They want to live in a normal country. They don’t want to have their kids getting on rafts and having to leave the country in order to lead normal lives.”

“So why can’t the State Department, why can’t the White House just say it clearly? This is not about COVID. This is not about anything else. This is about freedom. Say it.”

Two hours after Chung posted the tweet that drew criticism, she posted another, apparently reacting to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s televised warnings to protesters.

 “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba,” the tweet read. “We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”

Three hours after Chung’s second tweet, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan retweeted it, adding a message of his own: “The U.S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.”

The world’s eyes are on Cuba tonight’

As of press time the State Department has not responded to emailed queries inviting comment.

The official Twitter account of the Democratic National Committee did not comment on the developments in Cuba.

Neither did the members of “the Squad” – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) – the Congressional Progressive Caucus or its chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – who has come under fire in the past for comments about the regime in Havana.

A notable exception on the Democratic side was Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) – like Rubio the son of Cuban immigrants – who issued a statement on what he called “an historic day.”

“In an historic day of protests, the world is bearing witness as thousands of Cubans take to the streets to call for an end to dictatorship in their country,’ he said. “Despite ongoing persecution on the island, Cubans are bravely joining to demand nothing more than the ability to live safely and speak their minds, freely, openly, and without fear.”

“For decades, Cuba’s dictatorship has used violence and repression to silence its people, rather than permit the free exercise of democracy and their basic social rights. This must end,” Menendez said. “The world’s eyes are on Cuba tonight and the dictatorship must understand we will not tolerate the use of brute force to silence the aspirations of the Cuban people.”

Senior Republicans who tweeted messages of support and concern about Cuba included House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

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