(CNN)President Joe Biden will discuss applying new sanctions on the Cuban regime when he meets with Cuban-American leaders at the White House on Friday, according to a White House official.
The meeting takes place weeks after Cuba saw the largest protests in decades when thousands took to the streets to protest lack of food and medicine as the country undergoes a grave economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and US sanctions. Meanwhile, Democrats are also under pressure to take a tougher line against the Cuban regime amid inroads former President Donald Trump made in 2020 among Cuban-Americans in Florida.Biden is also expected to discuss his administration’s efforts to establish internet access for the Cuban people, the official said. The President will be meeting on Friday with Felice Gorordo, the CEO of eMerge Americas and the co-founder of Roots of Hope; Yotuel Romero, the lead singer of Cuban hip hop group Orishas and the author of Patria y Vida, the song that has become an anthem for the protesters; Ana Sofia Pelaez, the founder of the Miami Freedom Project and former Miami mayor Manny Diaz, according to the official. The Biden administration last week sanctioned a key Cuban official and a government special forces unit known as the Boinas Negras for human rights abuses in the wake of the historic protests. The sanctions the President is expected to discuss on Friday would be separate from these previously announced sanctions. Read MoreLast week’s sanctions came after Cuban-American groups and some members of Congress criticized the administration for not adopting a tough enough approach to the Cuban regime. The President issued a statement condemning the mass detentions and “sham trials” of protesters. Biden said in a statement at the time that the actions were “just the beginning” and that the US would “continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.”The President has also said his administration was working with civil society organizations and the private sector “to provide internet access to the Cuban people that circumvents the regime’s censorship efforts.”The President has also directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba, or the practice of Americans transferring money to their Cuban relatives, to determine ways for those residing in the US to send money to the country.Cuba’s government controls the financial sector and all communications on the island, and Biden has said he believes that under the current circumstances the remittances would end up in the hands of the regime. Circumventing the government to send money or improve and expand internet access is a challenge other US administrations have tried and failed to overcome, but the issue has taken on increased urgency in the wake of the historic and widespread protests. Biden said during his presidential campaign he would try to reverse Trump-era policies on Cuba that he said have “inflicted harm on Cubans and their families.” But Biden’s review of these policies remains underway, and people familiar with the discussions tell CNN the review is unlikely to result in a return to the Obama-era policy of normalized relations with Havana. The Cuban government has shown no signs in recent years of easing its political and economic repression of the Cuban people, which has severely narrowed the Biden administration’s options for returning to normalized ties. Democrats in South Florida have been privately and publicly urging their party leaders to embrace the protests against Cuba’s communist regime. These Democrats believe standing with the Cuban people could help the party regain ground with the state’s diverse Hispanic voters, nearly half of whom voted for Trump in 2020 in a nearly 10-point swing from four years before.