Cuba and Haiti arouse new political pressure on the American president | Washington, D.C. News

By AAMER MADHANI and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — These are two small Caribbean states whose intractable problems have vexed US presidents for decades. Now Haiti and Cuba suddenly pose a growing challenge to President Joe Biden that could have political ramifications for him in the battleground state of Florida.

Cuban demonstrators have taken to the streets across the country in recent days to lash out at the communist government and protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus pandemic. In Haiti, officials are calling on the United States to intervene in a turbulent political crisis after the assassination last week of President Jovenel Moïse in a country where the military and humanitarian interventions of American presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama, are proved to be politically heartbreaking.

Biden is facing increased pressure from Republican lawmakers for his administration to step up support for Cuban protesters. And his aides have exercised determined caution in response to demands for greater U.S. involvement in Haiti.

The administration has come under fire from both sides of the political spectrum for its responses to each of the crises, both of which took place within a two-hour flight from Miami. The United States’ troubled history in both countries has hardened positions, making virtually any policy decision politically unpleasant for a president seeking to toe a middle line.

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In the background: How the Biden administration handles crises looms large in election-rich Florida.

Biden lost the state in 2020 to Donald Trump as Republicans improved their performance while paying particular attention to courting the state’s large Cuban-American population and other immigrant voters, Susan MacManus noted. , Florida political analyst and professor emeritus at the University of South Florida.

“The caution Biden is showing reflects the poor 2020 results and a desire not to repeat it,” said MacManus, who added that Haitian Americans are becoming a growing political force in South Florida. “Democrats learned in 2020 that country of origin is a much more powerful voting predictor in Florida than historical voter affiliation, and Trump’s hammering on socialism proved to be an effective message.”

Indeed, as the situations unfold in Cuba and Haiti, Biden administration officials have reacted with caution.

The White House on Sunday dispatched representatives from the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and the White House National Security Council to meet with Haiti’s Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, Prime Minister-designate Ariel Henry and Joseph Lambert, the leader of his dismantled Senate, whom supporters named provisional president in a challenge to Joseph.

White House officials said Haiti’s request for the United States to deploy troops was being considered. At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday he was unaware the administration had denied any requests from Haitian officials, but said the focus was on supporting the government. investigating the assassination rather than providing military assistance.

U.S. officials also said the administration remains concerned about infighting over who is the rightful successor to Moïse in Haiti.

The White House is coordinating with Joseph in his capacity as interim prime minister, but urges Haitian officials to work together to hold legislative and presidential elections as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the White House said a review of its Cuba policy was still underway.

To be sure, US efforts to press for regime change have had their fair share of failures over the years: the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the assassination attempts backed by the CIA against Cuban leader Fidel Castro and sanctions that inflicted pain but never produced the ultimate goal of ending communist rule.

“We’re going to take a close look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past, and unfortunately in the case of Cuba, there may be more that hasn’t worked than what has worked,” Price said.

This week, Cuban police intervened in force as President Miguel Díaz-Canel accused Cuban Americans of using social media to spark a rare wave of weekend protests. The protests in several cities and towns were among the biggest demonstrations of anti-government sentiment seen in years in tightly controlled Cuba, which faces a spike in coronavirus cases as it battles its worst economic crisis in decades. .

There are political cross-currents for Biden as he addresses both situations.

On Cuba, the political right in the United States has accused Biden — who has said as a presidential candidate he would revert to Obama-era policies that eased decades of embargo on Havana — of not enough support Cuban dissidents.

Democrats, meanwhile, are unhappy that Biden has yet to reverse Trump’s hardline approach to the island’s communist government as his administration conducts its review of Cuba policy.

In a statement, Trump criticized past promises by Biden to ease restrictions on Cuba.

“Remember that Biden and the Democrats campaigned to overturn my very tough stance on Cuba,” Trump said.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a freshman congressman who represents a Miami district that Democrats hope to overthrow in next year’s midterm elections, were among the elected officials this week who have called on the administration to maintain Trump’s Cuba policy.

They also called on Biden to help protesters, including making free satellite internet available on the island to reverse efforts by the Cuban government to stop activists from spreading their messages on social media around the world.

Gimenez said in an interview that simply maintaining the status quo is not enough at a time when the island is experiencing some of the most intense protests in more than 60 years – something Biden himself called a “call for freedom”.

Biden lost Florida by about double the margin by which Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump was helped in part by shrinking the Democrats’ margin of victory in population-rich Miami-Dade County by nearly 13 percentage points. Gimenez and another Cuban-born freshman lawmaker, Maria Elvira Salazar, won seats held by Democrats as Trump and Republicans focused on courting Cuban Americans, a major voting bloc in the state.

The majority of Cubans in Florida backed Trump over Biden, 58% to 41%, according to AP VoteCast. The margin was nearly reversed among other Hispanic voters in the state, who were more likely to support Biden than Trump, 59% to 40%.

“Biden is not stupid,” Gimenez said. “It’s not just the Cuba issue, it’s the whole issue of socialism, communism and censorship that has moved the people of Miami-Dade to the right. The president’s problem is that the extreme parts of his own party seem to be driving the agenda, and he simply cannot escape it at the moment.

White House spokesman Chris Meagher said Biden, from his days in the Senate, was a fierce critic of the Castro regime and committed to Cuban human rights.

“He is committed to forming his policy towards Cuba on the basis of two principles: that defending democracy and human rights is paramount, and that Americans – especially Cuban Americans – are the best ambassadors of freedom and prosperity in Cuba,” Meagher said.

Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, who served as director of policy and interagency coordination in the Trump White House, said the situations in Cuba and Haiti offer Biden a chance to demonstrate his oft-repeated dictum that democracies can serve their people better than autocracies. than its preference for multilateral efforts to solve major global problems.

“This is an administration that says it believes in international organizations and it believes in these multilateral bodies. If so, gather our allies in the hemisphere…and see how they can rally others to help,” Diaz-Rosillo said.

Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

This story has been corrected to show that Biden lost Florida to Trump in 2020, not 2016.

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Kevin E. Boling