- Brave protesters take to the streets again. They lack solidarity from abroad.
By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
When hundreds of peaceful protesters went to the streets of the Cuban town of Caimanera on May 6, the regime sent black-beret soldiers to beat and arrest them—and their family members. The scene was reminiscent of the July 11, 2021, islandwide uprising that ended in a merciless crackdown by the dictatorship.
But here’s the twist: Caimanera sits next to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo. Reuters hilariously calls it a “fishing village”—in a country where it’s illegal for most people to own a boat—but it’s more accurately described as Havana’s front line of national defense. There’s a heavy presence of Cuban armed forces in the area and the town has a good number of retired Cuban military. Writing about the protests last week, Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez called Caimanera “one of the most guarded towns in Cuba.”
This implies a population sympathetic to the police state—or, at a minimum, fearful enough to avoid antigovernment outbursts. The protest happened anyway.
The dictatorship moved quickly to contain a repeat of what happened two summers ago, now commonly referred to in Cuba as J11. Its rapid deployment of jackboots was combined with an immediate shutdown of the internet across the island to stop the spread of the news.
The regime knows it’s sitting on a powder keg of popular discontent. Its survival has always relied on the mental isolation of every Cuban. If the island’s residents were to feel empowered to criticize the system openly, the whole thing would crumble. Totalitarianism fears speech.
Ideas are powerful, yet dissidents need solidarity from abroad. They’re not getting it because, while the revolution has destroyed nearly everything it has touched over 64 years, its propaganda machine remains remarkably successful.
In media, Havana manipulates the messengers. Many journalists lean anti-American by nature and the regime controls foreign news bureaus on the island.
The New York Times report on Cuba’s attempt at a Covid-19 vaccine was laughable. Toilet paper is scarce in the socialist paradise. But in February 2021 the Times breathlessly hyped—in language dripping with contempt for the U.S.—the Havana line that a breakthrough was looming. “The vaccine heading for a final phase of trials is called Sovereign 2, in a nod to the pride the island takes in its autonomy, despite decades of hostility from its neighbor to the north. Already, Cuba is floating the idea of enticing tourists to its shores with the irresistible cocktail of sun, sand and a shot of Sovereign 2.”
Lots of Cubans were given a shot, but who knows what was in it? In August 2022, the Economist tallied excess-mortality data on the island to estimate the Covid-19 death toll per capita. It found Cuba’s rate to be “among the 20 worst” across the globe and far above the country average in the region.
Cuba’s revolutionary pact was that the regime would guarantee food and medicine and, in return, Cubans would surrender their liberty. Now that they have none of the above, they’re angry.
Reports from Caimanera indicate that hunger sparked the mass mobilization two weeks ago. But video circulating on social media shows many of those in the street, including women with children, chanting the familiar “libertad” and singing the Grammy-winning dissident song “Patria y Vida”—Homeland and Life.
Nowadays some stories of repression are too big to bury the way the New York Times’s Walter Duranty buried Stalin’s Ukrainian starvation in the 1930s. Cuba’s spontaneous 2021 popular revolt was one such story. Protesters used their cellphones to record hours of video showing the outpouring of revulsion against the regime. The international media was forced to cover it.
Yet the regime had good reason not to surrender—and it was right. The more than 1,000 political prisoners in Cuba, most of whom were arrested after J11, have disappeared from the news. This includes celebrities like performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and musician Maykel Osorbo. It’s like it never even happened.
Meantime the Biden administration continues to legitimize the criminal government. Cuba is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. But earlier this year, under the guise of the U.S. International Port Security Program, the administration scheduled a tour of Wilmington, N.C., port facilities for Cuba’s Interior, Transportation and Foreign Relations ministries. The Miami Herald’s Nora Gámez Torres reported that congressional Republicans objected to the tour but that a downsized version went forward, “due to concerns” on the part of the Department of Homeland Security “that suspending the entire visit could trigger retaliation from Cuban authorities,” according to congressional sources.
With the freest, strongest country in the world cowed by Havana mobsters, and media forever making excuses for the repression, the long-suffering Cubans still face an uphill climb.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally on the WSJ in the May 14, 2023. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.
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