President Joe Biden on Monday urged Cuba's communist government to "hear" protesters demanding an end to "repression" and poverty.
"We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime," Biden said in a statement.
"The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."
The strongly worded statement was sure to anger Cuba's leaders, who say Washington is stirring up the rare mass street protests in the authoritarian country.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Monday said US economic sanctions were the cause of the turmoil, calling it a "policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country."
The Biden administration -- focused on domestic challenges including battling Covid-19 and passing infrastructure legislation, while also withdrawing from the 20-year war in Afghanistan -- has largely ignored Cuba until now.
But the island has significant weight on US politics, with Cuban Americans a formidable presence in the important electoral state of Florida.
On Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned Cuba against a crackdown on the protesters.
"The US supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights," he tweeted.
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