By John J. Metzler
Cuba’s ongoing political and social upheaval has shocked many observers as a sudden and intense summer storm. Across the island, in small towns and provincial centers, protests erupted like a squall line until reaching the capital Havana. Tropical storm “Liberdad” was lashing the island of Cuba while its winds of freedom were blowing across the Florida Straits, triggering major pro-democracy demonstrations in Miami and elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, the Biden Administration was caught off guard by the fast-moving events only to attempt political damage control later in the week.
It’s become popular these days to hear that we must go back to the root causes of any crisis. Vice President Kamala Harris regularly repeats this refrain.
So let’s do so with Cuba.
The Roots of Cuba’s malaise rest in the Marxist system grafted upon the island since 1959 and forced upon the Cuban people. This remains a crisis of systemic socialist stupidity which has turned a once pretty prosperous place into an economic basket case.
The Roots of the Cuban Revolution were woven with envy, hate, and false utopianism. But now, without the Castro brothers in direct control (Fidel is dead and brother Raul is 90), the cult of power and control by the classic Latin American caudillo is replaced by a bland regime functionary who uses the police state to crack down on the protesters.
The Roots of Cuba’s human, political and religious rights violations have never been condemned by the UN’s Human Rights Council.
The Roots of Economic mismanagement are nothing new to Cuba since the 1960s: The longtime subsidies and support from the former Soviet Union are gone. The regime must now fend for itself. GDP fell by 11% last year.
Tourism, which generates quite a lot of cash from Canadian and European visitors, has dried up during the pandemic. Moreover, the lack of vaccines has triggered a health crisis.
The Roots of endemic shortages are not that Cubans don’t work hard, but for what? People’s labor and toil are wasted for handfuls of worthless pesos. Cuban Americans, on the other hand, are not only hard-working but have brought enterprise and entrepreneurialism to new heights. Look at Florida.
The Roots of condemning the U.S. trade embargo on the island, yet the embargo doesn’t affect Cuba’s commerce with Europe, Canada, China, nor Latin America. The reason for the embargo, a policy of 14 American presidents, deals with the regime’s seizing and expropriation of American-owned property after the revolution in 1959. The embargo does not isolate Cuba from the world but from direct U.S. commerce and tourism.
The Roots of Cuba’s censorship and surveillance of its population remains a bedrock of the communist regime; what has changed has been information seeping in via social media that cannot be totally controlled. Herein lies a genuine Achilles heel to the system.
The Roots of political rationalization are nothing new for leftist American politicians. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) long an apologist for the Havana regime, has now couched his words carefully: “All people have the right to protest and to live in a democratic society.” Fine, but the root cause remains Cuba’s authoritarian regime.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), son of Cuban refugees, stated succinctly, “The first lesson we need to take away from it is Marxism, socialism, doesn’t work. … Call it for what it is.”
He cited a powerful new protest song called, ‘Patria y Vida.’ “Now, the slogan of the Cuban regime is ‘Patria o Muerte,’ meaning ‘fatherland or death.’ This song played on that, ‘Patria y Vida,’ which means fatherland and life, instead of fatherland or death.”
It’s time for a new tune in Old Havana. Liberdad!
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Divided Dynamism: The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.”