Reported by CHRIS ENLOE | July 12, 2021
The Biden administration was raked over the coals Sunday after a top State Department official claimed historic protests in Cuba were related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to freedom as the motive behind the demonstrations, Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, claimed that — actually — Cubans are angry about COVID and medicine shortages.
“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. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need,” Chung tweeted.
Watching any video from Sunday’s demonstrations, of course, quickly dispelled the claim. The Cuban people are heavily oppressed by Cuba’s communist regime, which has resulted in generations of impoverished living. In fact, videos showed mass crowds Cuban demonstrators shouting “libertad” and “patria y vida” (homeland and life, opposite of the regime’s “patria o muerte,” which means “homeland or death”) while waving American flags, an international symbol of freedom embraced by oppressed peoples outside America.
Chung’s clearly dubious claims triggered an eruption of backlash from, most importantly, Cuban Americans angry that the Biden administration would callously ignore the obvious motive for the Cuban people’s freedom demonstrations. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents immigrated from Cuba, rebuked President Joe Biden for not publicly supporting the Cuban people and condemned Chung, whom he praised for her work at the State Department, for her ridiculous assertion.
“COVID is the icing on the cake here because you have a socialist regime that says to people, ‘You have no freedom. You have no independence. You have no ability to speak freely, but you have a really good health care system.’ They don’t!” Rubio began.
“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,” Rubio continued. “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!”
Alberto Miguel Fernandez, a retired U.S. diplomat who was born in Cuba, said, “What a dull, lifeless, dumb tweet by #Biden @StateDept official. People in Cuba aren’t calling for COVID shots or medicine. They are calling for Freedom.”
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), who was born in Cuba, said, “The Biden Admin is totally deranged on #Cuba policy. This isn’t some pesky protest over COVID vaccines. This is about opposing a brutal communist regime, freeing political prisoners, and demanding free elections. If you can’t make that distinction, you are very bad at your job.”
While she did not respond to the criticism directly, she later followed up, “We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”
The Cuban people, of course, do not have a right to “peacefully assemble” in their homeland.