GOP: Biden not doing enough to help Cubans access internet

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference related to the situation in Cuba, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Hialeah Gardens, Fla. To the left is House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy and to the right is Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

MIAMI — House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and fellow GOP politicians accused President Joe Biden on Thursday of not doing more to help Cubans on the island get access to the internet.

Internet service was cut off  at one point during a July 11 protest against the communist government, but Cuban authorities have not explicitly acknowledged that they did it. Service is still spotty across the island more than three weeks later.

McCarthy met in Miami on Thursday with members of the state’s Cuban-American congressional delegation, Republican Gov. and aspiring presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and Republican Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez.

At a news conference afterward, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar said that while specific companies had expressed a willingness to step in and help, the White House has ignored the Cuban-American delegation. Salazar said “patience is running out.”

Biden has said the administration is working to identify options to make the internet more accessible on the island. Internet in Cuba has been expensive and relatively rare until recently. The Cuban government restricts independent news media and censors what’s available online. It also disrupts internet access.

Last Friday, Biden announced new sanctions against Cuba’s national revolutionary police and its top two officials. The president also created a working group to review U.S. remittance policy to make sure the communist government is not taking a cut of the money Cubans send from the U.S. to the island. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said last month that the government was not taking any of the money.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration took more than 200 actions against Cuba, including limiting individual trips to the island from the U.S., barring cruise ship visits and capping remittances. The Republicans gathered in Miami said Thursday that they were against lifting the caps.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said increasing remittances is “something the regime has been asking for.”

Diaz-Balart added that he had participated in previous classified briefings during which several options to improve access to the internet had been presented. He said he could not release any details, but that such measures had been used in other countries.

Cubans used the internet to spread word on social media about last month’s anti-government demonstrations. Thousands showed up in Havana and other cities to object to government policies in large protests, the likes of which had not been seen in decades.

“Remember why you want to do this,” McCarthy said of improving and maintaining internet access for Cuban residents. “You want individuals, those in Cuba craving freedom, to understand we are with them.”