Greek-American Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) and Cuban American Senator Bob Menendez (D- New Jersey) are voicing their support for the burgeoning demonstrations in Cuba, which began recently out of frustration with food shortages, astronomical prices and a lack of medical care due to the coronavirus.
However, the demonstrations have spread through the isolated Caribbean nation which has ben hard hit by American economic sanctions over the decades which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Tensions have billed over in the past week, with protests breaking out all across the country.
Malliotakis, who is the daughter of a penniless Greek immigrant who came to the US knowing no English and a mother who was a refugee from Cuba, spoke with Fox News on Tuesday. In her remarks, the freshman Congresswoman from Staten Island was strong in her support for the now-widespread demonstrations in her mother’s native land.
The rallies there, which are illegal according to the Communist regime, are the largest seen in decades on the island.
Congresswoman Malliotakis, who is already a member of the powerful Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, stated “So far the Biden Administration has done nothing, and previously the Obama Administration just tried to make so many concessions to the Castro regime and get nothing in return for the people.
“We as Cuban-Americans want see freedom, we want to see democracy, we want to see human rights… We want to ensure the Cuban people have the opportunity to elect their own government and that’s what we will continue to push for.
“We have a record number of Cuban-Americans in Congress. There are three senators and we have seven members in the house and we are united in pushing the Biden Administration to help bring change, to help bring democracy to Cuba for our families that still live there and for the many dissidents who have come to the United States and just want to see freedom in their homeland as my own mother would want to see.
“Open up a dialogue to push the change for democracy it certainly shouldn’t go back to what Obama did, to make concessions without getting anything in exchange. I think it’s incredibly important that we do not mess this up. I think President Biden has a real opportunity,” Malliotakis continued.
“Freedom, democracy and human rights” for Cuba
“We want freedom, democracy, free and fair elections, and of course, restoration of human rights…
“People in Cuba right now are starving,” Congresswoman Malliotakis charged. They don’t have food. Those who don’t have family here to help them are really in dire straits. It’s incredibly difficult.
“If you noticed yesterday – they are marching with the American flag. And I think that’s a reminder to Americans here how lucky and fortunate we are to be in this country, where we do have freedom, where we are a democracy where we elect our representatives, where we have liberties that people dream about in other countries,” Malliotakis stressed.
Senator Bob Menendez, (D-New Jersey) the highest-raking Cuban-American in Congress, spoke to MSNBC earlier this week regarding the protests, giving his full support to the Cuban people as they rise up against a system that has made it nearly impossible to even find food or to pay for it — at a time when the pandemic has decimated the tourism-based economy.
Long-standing resentment against the Communist regime, now headed by Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first non-Castro family member to rule the country, has risen to a boiling point in the past week.
Cuba cuts off internet, phone service to citizens
With a virulence unseen since the 1994 protests, the demonstrations exploded in numbers and attendance until Sunday, when the Cuban government cut off the internet — and then even the telephone system — in the country as a desperate measure to stop the people from organizing.
Menendez stated “This is one of the largest, most significant protests because it spans the whole of the country, not just Havana. We see that a movement has been militating for a while. It expresses the depth of discontentment that the Cuban people have with the regime, their economic suffering, the Covid handling, the lack of liberties and basic freedoms.
“My information from inside the island is that the protests have continued,” he explained.
“The problem is that the regime has shut down the internet for two reasons — first, so that the Cuban people cannot communicate with each other — cannot know what is happening on the island as they peacefully protest — and that number two, the rest of the world does not know what is happening inside.
“You only shut down the internet if you fear your own citizens in the first place. I think this is an extraordinary moment, one that that I hope the US responds to by a series of actions that I hope will be very helpful to the Cuban people.”
The veteran Democratic Senator applauded US President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken’s recent statements in support of the Cuban people, stating that they had sent a strong message against the Cuban regime not to use violence against its own people who were protesting.
However, according to an announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, Cuban refugees who take to the high seas in order to get away from the situation there will be turned away from the United States even if they demonstrate fear of being persecuted or tortured in Cuba.
“Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States,” Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant who fled from Cuba with in 1960, declared. The statement was not a refutation of the longstanding “wet foot” policy, in which Cubans fleeing the Communist regime are allowed to stay on US soil as long as they reach land.
Rather the warning was seen as a way to head off swarms of Cubans who may head off to Florida in desperation, risking their lives in the attempt. US authorities have always been allowed to turn back Cuban refugees who are attempting to reach US shores by boat — as long as they are still at sea.
Asked if there should be a relaxing of sanctions already levied against the Cuban regime, Menendez added that the nation already takes 20% off the top of all remittances sent there by family member who are living in exile. Then they take the balance of what is left and convert that to Cuban pesos — making the money almost worthless to their family members in Cuba.
No other country in the world does that, he explained. “The regime has to change in order to let the people thrive,” he declared.
The food stores that do still have inventory are only for those who have dollars, Menendez added, making it almost impossible now for ordinary Cubans to buy the food they need.
He stated that the the Helms-Burton Act, part of which he wrote, describes just what America can do to help the the Cuban people — if only there is an opening to do so in Cuba.
Asked about the vaccine situation on the island, Menendez acknowledged that Cuba is not part of the global COVAX group, to which the US has pledged at least 500 million vaccine doses. Although there are three vaccines produced in Cuba which are being administered there, it is unclear how effective they are, according to Menedez.
He stated that even if the US found some way to donate vaccines to the country, he is wary of the Cuban state using vaccinations as a way to reward its supporters and punish dissenters. A way of getting around this, the Senator speculated, might be to perhaps go through the Catholic Church or other entities in Cuba to distribute the vaccines.