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“We need President Biden to achieve this,” DeSantis – who could challenge Biden in the 2024 presidential election – said at a press conference.
“The only thing communist regimes fear most is the truth. And if we can help Cubans communicate with each other and with the outside world, that truth will matter … Mr President, now is the time to stand up and be counted. “
For his part, Biden said Thursday afternoon that his administration was examining whether the US had the “technological capabilities” to restore internet access on the island.
Cubans regained internet access on Wednesday after much of the island was left behind by a power outage following the protests, without being able to share and publicize the government’s response to the protesters – thousands of whom locals said were arrested were or are missing activists.
Still, officials on both sides of the aisle are calling for the Biden government to step up and expand access so that the Cuban government cannot cut off Cubans’ connectivity in the future.
But the White House is unwilling to commit and is relatively slow to respond to the crisis in Cuba. This slow approach has encouraged Republicans to criticize the Biden for being too sclerotic. And Florida Democrats fear the president may miss an opportunity to refocus US Cuban politics and improve the party’s political chances in a former swing state that Republicans are increasingly beginning to dominate by taking precedence over Hispanic voters .
“DeSantis shows movement, action. It’s what people want, ”complained Carlos Odio, co-founder of Equis Research, a democratic Latino research company. “What people are looking for is solidarity with the Cuban people and working on solutions for Cubanople.”
Privately, Biden government officials discussed the logistics of how to bypass Cuban censorship, but the government is still engaged in a month-long review of Cuban policies that came into focus when unprecedented protests on the island took place over the weekend showed up. Officials say they are trying to be deliberate in their Cuba strategy.
The Biden government “is looking at how the events of Sunday and this week will affect how we respond to the situation and how we can best support the Cuban people,” a senior civil servant said in a call to reporters on Thursday .
Any decision to offer connectivity to Cubans is part of a cross-agency discussion, said Julie Chung, foreign ministry assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs.
Chung said the Biden government is discussing this with the private sector as it is “something we are very interested in promoting and advocating”.
Simultaneously with the DeSantis press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing that she had no further details on the timing of the Cuban policy announcements and pointed out the complications of finding ways to reach U.S. family members by Cubans on the island to send money without it being confiscated by the dictatorship.
“The lack of internet access,” said Psaki, “is a huge problem in Cuba and one that is very challenging for the people of Cuba to have access to accurate information, to correspond with family members and others, we are certainly. ”look at this to see what can be done about it [it]. “
However, she could not comment on the specific proposal that was mentioned in Florida on Wednesday because “I have no assessment”.
Like Psaki, other government officials have been vague in their comments about helping the Cuban people secure internet access to ensure they are not cut off from information. A senior administration official told POLITICO that the administration is consenting to calls from Rubio and Senator Bob Menendez (DN.J.) to ensure access to information on the island.
The official noted that the connectivity Cubans had on Sunday to widely share videos of the protest is a result of Obama-era politics. One of the Obama administration’s resumption of diplomatic relations priorities was the expansion of telecommunications on the island.
The US should “consider how we can expand access to the Internet, consider satellite feeds of the Internet so that people on the island can communicate with each other,” Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and a Cuban American, said on Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC. He repeated it in several interviews this week and contacted the Biden government about the next steps for Cuba, he said.
Rubio on Wednesday urged Biden “Immediately approve and allocate funds to provide emergency connectivity to the Internet for Cuba through balloon-provided Internet coverage.” He found that it can be used for a relatively short period of time.
The specific technology mentioned during the DeSantis press conference was a joint project called Loon between Google and a South Dakota company called Raven that was developing giant high-altitude balloons that broadcast a type of wireless system to which smartphones could use Ground. Loon has been scrapped, but Raven still has the technology that was briefly used in Puerto Rico and Kenya after Hurricane Maria 2017, according to Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, who was here at the press conference with DeSantis and Republican representative María Elvira Salazar. spoke and Carlos Giménez.
Carr said he discussed Raven the most because it is a proven technology, but there are other ways to expand the internet to the island and consider. Regardless, he said, the Biden government would need to approve use of the technology as it would require the involvement of the FCC, the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.
He said the balloons could be deployed in international waters about 20 miles off Cuba – that is, 70 miles south of Key West – but he was unable to provide a timeframe or cost. The FCC did not respond to a request for comment on the exact cost.
After the Cuban government completely shut down the island’s internet after Sunday’s protests, it restored it, but certain platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter remained banned for those without a VPN in order to bypass the ban. Carr said that in addition to providing independent internet access on the island, the US also has technology to unlock those apps.
“The first step brutal dictators around the world are taking is shutting down the internet to block messaging apps because what communist dictators dislike is the bright light of international attention, the eyes of the world World that see what’s going on in their regime. ”“ Carr said.
The cost of the project is unclear, but Salazar said it wasn’t a problem as the Cuban-American community in the United States would fund the effort with private money if necessary.
“The Biden government has to give the green light and we will take care of it,” she said. “We don’t need the money. We need the green light. We need the political will of the Biden administration. And if the federal government thinks it can’t pay for its resources, the Cuban-American community will. “
Nahal Toosi and Ryan Heath contributed to this report.