It has for more than six decades been nothing less than an island prison. Long-suffering Cuban citizens — suppressed, starved, and effectively incarcerated by one of the world’s last surviving communist regimes — have been rendered helpless to offer resistance to a police state perpetually surveilling, detaining, and jailing its citizens for even the faintest hint of dissent.
All one really needs to know about this blight on humanity is that no one is permitted to leave the island — except in dilapidated, unseaworthy rafts hastily assembled by courageous and desperate souls willing to dodge the secret police and brave shark-infested waters to escape — and reach that place of freedom beckoning 90 miles to the north.
But what happens when, even in the face of ubiquitous surveillance and the certainty of official retaliation, a revolt grows legs so long and strong that even the totalitarian dictator is forced to consolidate his forces to tamp down the rebellion? Well, incredibly, not dozens or hundreds but thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana and 14 other cities across the island nation over the weekend in an unprecedented wave of protests, reportedly over the lack of food and COVID vaccines. Most importantly — and shockingly — the protesters called not for reform but for the downfall of the Marxist dictatorship.
In a nation long since disarmed — the crucial first initiative of communist regimes — the government will as always be able to threaten the protesters with impunity. “Revolutionaries to the street,” said President Miguel Díaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers, as the rebellion was rising, “the order for combat has been given.” The state will certainly accelerate its crackdown by jamming the internet, jailing increasing numbers of peaceful protesters, and ginning up fake support — and retaliation — among the proletariat, no doubt in return for the reward of, if not circuses, at least a pittance of bread.
As the last leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev learned the hard way, once the demand for freedom metastasizes, nothing, ultimately, can stop it. It becomes a self-propelled locomotive gaining steam as it speeds down the tracks. The crumbs given to the masses in the era of glasnost and perestroika, headlined by the elite media as proof of the best intentions of a reformed Soviet regime, only served to finally give people a taste of what they had been missing. But it was hardly enough. As “let them eat cake” stoked the French Revolution, the trickle of freedom offered up by Gorbachev led to a flood of protest for more and the ultimate dissolution of the state.
Cuba stands as the last remnant of Soviet-style communism, the socialist paradise in the Caribbean, the quintessential one-party state. It offers no political options, brooks no dissent, accepts no debate, allows no liberty. Demonstrate fealty to the regime, or face a life of misery even worse than ordinary Cubans who make an average of less than two cents per hour — that’s $0.02 compared to the minimum $7.25 in the United States. Do the math, and you understand the level of deprivation the people of Cuba have been forced to endure since Fidel Castro’s revolution toppled the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. What followed was a reign of terror, a Stalin-like purge that was shocking to Americans of many stripes who initially perceived Castro as the antidote to Batista’s authoritarian excesses, even a force for democracy.
To the contrary, Castro’s regime soon became a crucial ally, beachhead, and benefactor of the decidedly non-democratic Soviet Union, serving as the base of operations in the Western Hemisphere for our Cold War enemy — dangerously close to our shores. Castro permitted the implanting of the infamous Soviet missiles which in 1962 brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. And it was the “evil empire” that almost single-handedly kept Cuba’s moribund socialist economy afloat with massive subsidies. But when their benefactors dissolved into the ash heap of history 30 years ago in 1991, Cuba was left twisting in the wind.
But, of course, as the island paradise dies a slow, painful death over more than half a century, the dream has never died in the hearts of leftists, many still romanticizing the Castro years, likely because they never had to actually live in the utopia they glorified. The leftist media, which for so long served as apologists for the Soviet and Cuban regimes, are now subliminally linking the Cuban protesters to Trump supporters by cleverly referring to them as “anti-government,” inviting comparisons to the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters.
Demonstrating afresh just how out of touch it can be, the Biden State Department released a statement saying, “We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly” — as if Cubans have such a right! Are these professional diplomats unaware that there is no Bill of Rights, no freedom of speech, or the press, or religion, or assembly in Cuba? Have officials all the way up the ladder to the White House forgotten that the only “rights” in totalitarian regimes are those granted at the pleasure of the supreme leader?
Cuba stands with the likes of North Korea in the shrinking panoply of totalitarian regimes that remain standing as monuments to a century of communist tyranny. After a 20th century marked by some 100 million deaths at the hands of Marxist totalitarians, it is crucial to re-draw a certain distinction. In authoritarian regimes such as Russia and Syria, some people prosper, others suffer. In totalitarian regimes, everyone suffers equally, by oppression or deprivation, with the notable exception of communist party officials who are, paraphrasing George Orwell, “more equal than others.”
A shadow Cuban government, currently championed by Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, has by most accounts been prepared for the decisive counter-revolution in its native land from the moment the first wave of Castro’s enemies arrived in south Florida in the early 1960s. As these Cuban patriots stand at the ready, they wait prayerfully, hoping against hope that they may soon receive an answer to the questions long at the forefront of their hearts and minds: Has Cuba’s long-smoldering tinderbox of dissent finally been set ablaze? Will that long-dreamed-of day soon arrive when they may kiss the soil of their beloved homeland once more?
Read more from Tim Donner.
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