Press Secretary Jen Psaki ( Photo by Cameron Smith)
Press Secretary Jen Psaki ( Photo by Cameron Smith)

Today at the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks about unrest in Cuba, conflict over COVID-19 vaccines and the Biden crime plan. Delaney Tarr reports on the press briefing. 

Cubans In Historic Protest Against Government 

The White House voices support for the Cuban people as rare protests continue in the country over COVID-19 cases and a worsening economy. 

The country is currently in an economic crisis aggravated by COVID-19 and US economic sanctions. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the protests that began yesterday are a general expression of frustration against the government. 

“There’s every indication that yesterday’s protests were reactions of the people in Cuba to exhaustion of the governance of the leader in the state,” said Psaki, “the economic mismanagement and the repression we’re seeing take place against the people of the country.”

In nationally televised remarks on Sunday, Cuban President Miguel Diàz-Canel placed blame for the economic crisis on US sanctions. He called the embargo “economic asphyxiation”.

The United States embargo against Cuba is the longest in modern history. The US first placed the embargo in 1958. The embargo prevents American businesses from conducting trade with Cuba. 

Since 1992 the UN has adopted a non-binding resolution calling for the end of the embargo on Cuba, with overwhelming support every year. In June of 2021, 184 countries voted in favor of the resolution.

Psaki pushed back against blame on the embargo, citing a number of exceptions under the blockade. She said the US has continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Cuba. 

“Last year alone, the US exported $176 million of goods to Cuba,” said Psaki. She also cited the $20 million that Congress has annually directed in democracy assistance. 

The economic crisis has also caused a surge of COVID-19 cases in Cuba. The country has developed its own vaccine, the Abdala vaccine, which they claim has a 92.28% success rate. 

Yet their COVID-19 case rates have continued to rise. Psaki pointed to the country’s resistance to joining COVAX, a global initiative to increase access to vaccines led in part by the World Health Organization. 

“COVAX would be a mechanism that we have provided vaccines to a range of countries in the world,” said Psaki, “we certainly recognize and understand that access to vaccines is one of the issues that a number of individuals in the streets are voicing concern about”. 

She said the US is working through the best mechanism to get vaccines to the Cuban people. 

In the meantime, Psaki said the Pan American Health Organization has been urging Cuban scientists to publish their results on the vaccine in peer-reviewed literature. 

President Joe Biden has publicly voiced his support for the Cuban people, and lack of support for the Cuban government. He called on Diàz-Canel to “hear their people and serve their needs.” 

Pfizer And White House In Spat Over Booster

The US government disagrees with Pfizer on the need for a COVID-19 booster vaccine, renewing concern around the uprising Delta variant and COVID-19 cases. 

Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech announced they would be seeking clearance for a booster shot within weeks, predicting people would need a booster within a year of immunization.

The US government has taken the opposite stance, stressing that those who are vaccinated are “safe” and do not require a booster. 

Psaki defended the disagreement, citing regular meetings between the White House and the medical world.

“We really work and meet with companies to understand the latest data,” said Psaki. She stressed that the government would take different company data into consideration, but that it wouldn’t be the only factor. 

“It’s not based solely on information or data from one company which hasn’t been concluded or hasn’t been published publicly either,” said Psaki. 

 If necessary, Psaki said the White House has the option for a booster shot in their contingency planning. She said the White House will use any further data as a consideration moving forward.

Biden Meeting On Crime And Gun Violence 

Biden will meet with the Attorney General, law enforcement leaders, elected officials, and community violence intervention experts today to discuss his plan to reduce violent crime and gun violence in the US. 

The meeting is part of Biden’s ongoing focus on crime, with a strategy to give cities and states funding and resources to improve public safety. 

Biden has also taken a pro-law enforcement stance, underscoring his commitment to ensuring state and local law enforcement have the “resources and support they need to hire more police officers”. 

Psaki announced that the White House will crackdown on ghost guns, used increasingly in violent crimes. The administration has a zero-tolerance policy for dealers who sell illegal firearms. 

The administration said that the investments in community and law enforcement measures will help reduce illegal guns from being on the street with a positive payoff.

“Our hope is that they will lead to a reduction in gun violence and crime in these cities,” said Psaki.