WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden met with a group of Cuban and Cuban-American leaders at the White House on Friday, including Emilio Estefan and one of the Cuban musicians behind “Patria y Vida,” the anthem of the SOS Cuba movement against communism on the island.
Yotuel Romero, 44, a member of Cuban hip hop group Orishas, worked with Gente de Zona on “Patria y Vida” to give a voice to the opposition on the island.
On Thursday, Yotuel shared a picture on Instagram of the beginning of his journey to the White House.
The ex-pat, who is married to a Spanish actress and singer, lives between Miami and Madrid. He wore a navy blue suit and tie on Friday to the White House.
Before the meeting with Biden, the musician met with Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban American who serves as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez, 67, was also invited to the meeting.
The two showed up to the White House early to go to the medical unit to get tested for the coronavirus before they were allowed in the historic State Dining Room.
Once they tested negative, they made it to the meeting.
Estefan had been there before as a music producer and he recently participated in a virtual meeting with two White House officials. He wore a pin on his lapel with the U.S. and Cuban flags.
“Today is a very important day to send a message of freedom, hope, and democracy,” Estefan, 68, wrote in Spanish on Instagram. “Not only for Cuba, but also for Venezuela Nicaragua, and all countries with dictatorships that deserve to be free. Hopefully this meeting that several people are attending is positive and encourages us to make the right decisions.”
Once inside the State Dining Room, the furniture was set up for a roundtable discussion. Everyone wore black face masks. There were long ivory table cloths, place cards, and individual microphones. There was social distancing. Biden sat in the middle.
He announced his administration’s latest sanctions against two Cuban officials — Oscar Callejas Valcarce, the director of the Cuban police and his deputy, Eddy Sierra Arias — and the Policía Nacional Revolucionaria.
After the meeting, Estefan said he felt there was progress and Biden understands protestors are not just asking for food; they are asking for freedom.
“I was really impressed that he took the time and he asked so many questions, and I think every speech that went there had different ideas, but what we all want is a free Cuba,” Estefan said.
Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz described Biden as “a human being who really cares.” He said every individual sanction sends a message.
“As we understand it, there are more to come,” Diaz said.
Felice Gorordo, the chief executive officer of eMerge Americas, also participated. To commemorate the unforgettable experience, Gorordo, Yotuel, Estefan, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and other participants posed for a group photo.
“My takeaway: @POTUS & the entire Admin is more determined than ever before to support the Cuban people & hold the regime accountable,” Gorordo wrote on Twitter. “#Cuba IS a top national security priority & they’re taking a whole of government approach to #SOSCuba.”
Profoundly grateful to @POTUS for his leadership at this critical moment for #Cuba. Incredibly appreciative for meeting with Cuban American leaders today at the @WhiteHouse to discuss how we can best support our brothers & sisters on the island. #Libertad #SOSCuba #PatriaYVida pic.twitter.com/QSIEQGc5AR— Felice Gorordo (@fgorordo) July 30, 2021
Biden’s remarks during the meeting
Well, I’m honored to welcome members of the Cuban American community, and Senator Menendez,
Senator [Congressman] Meeks to discuss how the United States is going to continue to stand with the Cuban people, who have suffered for decades and decades under a failed communist regime.
Earlier this month, Cubans took to the street in a historic demonstration of the will of the people of Cuba. The regime responded with violence and repression, mass detentions, sham trials, and people disappearing who — who have spoken out. Just disappearing.
Family members, I’m told, are not able — have no idea where their family members are back in Cuba. And — in a brazen violation of the rights of the Cuban people. The Cuban Americans are hurting. They’re hurting because their loved ones are suffering. And it’s, quite frankly, intolerable. So, I want the Cuban Americans to know that we — all around this table and myself included — see your pain, we hear your voices, and we hear the cries of freedom coming from the island.
The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people. We’ve brought to bear the strength of our diplomacy, rallying nations to speak out and increase pressure on the regime. And we’re holding the regime accountable.
Last week, we sanctioned the head of Cuban armed forces and the government — a government entity called the “Black Berets” for their involvement in suppressing protesters. And, today, we are adding sanctions against the Revolutionary National Police, as well as individual sanctions against the chief and deputy chief — the chief and deputy chief. And we’re going to continue to add sanctions on individuals that carry out — that carry out the regime’s abuses.
At the same time, we’re increasing direct support for the Cuban people by pursuing every option available to provide Internet access to help the Cuban bypass — the Cuban people bypass the censorship that’s being mandatorily imposed. You always know something is not going well when the — a country will not allow — will not allow their people to be engaged in — be on the Internet and being able to make their case known around the world.
And we’re expanding our assistance to political prisoners and dissidents. And the direct State — and I’ve directed the State Department and the Treasury Department to provide me, within one month, recommendations of how to maximize the flow of remittances to the Cuban people, without the Cuban military taking their cut. And we’re working to increase U.S. staffing at our embassy while prioritizing the safety of our personnel.
So, we’ve got a lot to discuss with this group. So, we got — and mostly, I’m here to listen. I want to know what their ideas are. And you are some of the best experts on the issue. The first person to bring this to my attention and to make sure that we were on top of this was Senator Menendez. And we think that — you know, the American — the Cuban American people are actually the best ambassadors for the Cuban people.
And so, my administration is going to make sure that their voices are included and uplifted at every step of the way. And we’re going to get down to business. So, thank you all for bothering to come in. I appreciate it.