Iran Throws Support Behind Cuban Government as Biden Admin Champions Protesters

People shout slogans against the government during a protest in Havana
Cuban protesters / Reuters
July 22, 2021

The Iranian regime is throwing its weight behind the embattled Cuban government as the Biden administration works to embolden democratic protesters on the communist island who have been subject to mass human-rights abuses in recent days.

Iranian government leaders say they have been in close contact with their Cuban counterparts and are helping the country combat fresh U.S. sanctions that were announced on Thursday by the White House. Iran has been working to increase its footprint in Latin America and join forces with autocratic governments in the region, including Venezuela. The new coordination between Iran and Cuba is another sign that Tehran is trying to empower enemies located in the United States' backyard even as the two countries negotiate a new nuclear deal.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif spoke by phone with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, on Thursday and reportedly "slammed the U.S.' [sic] meddling in Cuba's internal affairs," according to reports in Iran’s state-controlled media.

The Cuban regime is carrying out mass trials of activists and other protesters who have been rallying against the government in recent weeks. At least 500 people have been detained as the Cuban government violently suppresses the protesters. In response, the Biden administration issued wide-ranging sanctions Thursday on Cuba’s defense minister and other senior officials it says are complicit in human-rights abuses, earning plaudits from human-rights organizations and Cuban dissident groups.

"I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence," President Joe Biden said in a statement as the new sanctions were announced. "This is just the beginning—the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people."

Iranian leaders condemned the Biden administration’s action.

"As a country facing illegal and cruel sanctions of the U.S., Iran expresses its solidarity with the Cuban people and government and calls for an immediate end to the U.S.’s unilateral sanctions against Cuba," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.

Iran is also facing widespread anti-government protests. Anti-regime activists in the country say they are fed up with the clerical regime’s mismanagement, which has crippled the economy and sent the price of basic necessities skyrocketing.