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Biden Open To Sending Vaccines To Cuba — If Cuban Government Doesn’t Distribute Them

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Topline

Amid days of widespread protests across Cuba, President Joe Biden said Thursday he’s prepared to send some of the United States’ excess Covid-19 vaccine supplies to the country, but only if the government of Cuba — which Biden called a “failed state” — lets an independent organization administer the doses.

Key Facts

At a Thursday evening press conference, Biden said he could ship “significant amounts of vaccine” to Cuba, which has reportedly immunized less than 30% of its population so far, but the doses would need to be distributed by an international organization.

Biden said he was also open to easing restrictions on Americans sending money to family members and acquaintances in Cuba, but he’s holding off on this change due to concerns the Cuban government could confiscate the funds.

Crucial Quote

“There are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require a different circumstance, or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government,” Biden said during a press conference at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Surprising Fact

The United States has agreed to donate millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses to COVAX, a World Health Organization-affiliated project that offers subsidized vaccine supplies to low- and middle-income countries, but Cuba is not a member of the organization.

Key Background

Cuban protesters have spent days pushing back against economic damage, food and medicine shortages, a slow pace of Covid-19 vaccinations and political repression, one of the largest popular movements against the country’s communist government in decades. The Cuban government — which has begun cracking down on demonstrators — has blamed the country’s dire economic situation on decades of strict U.S. sanctions (the U.S. government exempts food and humanitarian supplies from its embargo).

What To Watch For

The Cuban government has responded to demonstrations by sporadically restricting access to the internet. Biden said the federal government is “considering whether we have the technological ability” to restore internet access, but he didn’t elaborate further.

Tangent

Biden also seemingly shot down a request from the Haitian government to send U.S. troops to secure key infrastructure in the island nation, which is dealing with serious instability after the country’s president was assassinated last week. Biden says the Marine Corps — which often handles diplomatic security — will dispatch forces to protect the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince and make sure “nothing is out of whack,” but sending a larger contingent of American troops to Haiti “is not on the agenda at this moment.”

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