Joe Biden Says World Hasn't Seen 'Anything Like' Cuban Protest, Citizens Demanding Freedom

U.S. President Joe Biden is standing by the demonstrations that swept Cuba over the weekend as a historic demand for basic rights in the communist island nation.

"The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime," Biden told reporters at the White House on Monday. "I don't think we've seen anything like these protests in a long long time if, quite frankly, ever."

Biden also called on Cuban leaders to "refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba."

"The U.S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights," Biden said.

Demonstrations—the largest in Cuba in decades—erupted across the island on Sunday, with protestors raising concerns over severe blackouts, food shortages and a lack of vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The White House released a statement early Monday in support of the demonstrators, before Biden raised the issue in person.

Cuban Americans demonstrate near White House
Cuban Americans demonstrate outside the White House in support of protests taking place in Cuba, on July 12, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Thousands of Cubans demonstrated over the weekend in the largest protest in that country in decades, frustrated by food shortages, a struggling economy and the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Win McNamee/Getty Images

"We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime," the statement read.

"The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights—those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected."

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has suggested that the United States is to blame for the unrest in the country, where demonstrations against the government are rare. He blamed the U.S.'s long-standing trade embargo and social media activity.

"We've seen how the campaign against Cuba was growing on social media in the past few weeks,″ he said in a televised appearance Monday. "That's the way it's done: Try to create inconformity, dissatisfaction by manipulating emotions and feelings."

The White House has rejected that characterization.

"There's every indication that yesterday's protests were spontaneous expressions of people who were exhausted with the Cuban government's economic mismanagement and repression," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. "These are protests inspired by the harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba—not people in another country."

Outside of Cuba, Cuban Americans have taken to the streets of Miami and held a demonstration outside the White House in signs of support for the thousands who took to the streets on the island.

"Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba," Psaki said.

The United States had moved toward normalizing relations with Cuba under then-President Barack Obama while Biden was vice president. Former President Donald Trump then reinstated restrictions. Biden hasn't signaled whether he will try to go back to the Obama-era policies, and Psaki declined to outline future plans or discussions.

"We will be closely engaged, we will be looking to provide support to the people of Cuba," she said.