For the first time in decades, Cubans are gathering together in protest against the dictatorial regime ruling over their country. With the chains of fear removed, a sea of fighters chant “libertad” – liberty.
Video footage from Latin American news outlets shows hundreds, if not thousands, of Cubans taking to the streets, protesting the Communist government. “Abajo la dictadura! Abajo Castro!” shouts one man. Other protestors join in and shout, “Abajo perros comunistas!” Down with the dictatorship, down with Castro, down with the Communist dogs.
Meanwhile, president of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel and secretary general of the Communist Party (also hand-picked by Raúl Castro, the brother of Fidel Castro) called upon “all the revolutionaries of the country, all the Communists” to go out, wherever the protestors may be, and contain them.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Cubans took to the streets, protesting the Communist government.
Sunday, July 11, 2021 saw perhaps the biggest demonstration in decades in Cuba against the country’s Communist regime. The images of Cubans gathering together in protest, in various cities across the country, are noted as unprecedented. They shout and decry the regime that keeps them starving, dying, without homes, in spite of hundreds of arrests happening. While some may say this is the product of having nothing left to lose, there’s no doubt this certainly entails a bravery and a thirst for freedom that some born in the United States take for granted.
The Rise of Communism in Cuba – from One Dictator to Another
To give a bit of context, Fidel Castro was the leader who would transform Cuba into the Communist nation we know today. He became an icon for Communist revolutionaries in Latin America and in the West – so much so, you can visit online retailers and buy shirts with his face on it. The irony is lost on too many people.
Born in 1926, Castro would grow up to be very involved in politics. In 1945, he went into law school at the University of Havana. There he joined a group that attempted to invade the Dominican Republic and took part in urban riots happening in Bogotá, Colombia in 1948 after the Bogotazo, where populist presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was shot down in the street outside his office.
Fidel Castro became a member of the reformist Cuban People’s Party after graduating in 1950, and would become the party’s candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives from a Havana district in the June 1952 election.
Castro nationalized Cuba’s private commerce and industry, and alienated the United States.
Then, the elections would be overthrown via a “bloodless military coup” by the former president of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, who had been favorably regarded before for expanding the education system in Cuba and for fostering the overall growth of Cuba’s economy. While he was able to overthrow the government with the aid and support of the army and the people of Cuba, he would ultimately return as a dictator – embezzling money for himself, and controlling the press, universities, and congress.
Castro began planning and building a rebel force to go against Batista. In 1956, he began a series of attacks in a guerilla warfare strategy against Batista’s forces. With his efforts, effective propaganda, and the presence of an oppressive dictatorship, Castro gained a lot of support, to the point of causing Batista to flee the country in 1959.
Castro was the revolutionary leader, and would become head of the government in 1959. His intentions as ruler seemed noble at first – to create an honest administration, reinstate the 1940 Constitution (which guaranteed freedom of expression and the right to be secure in your own home), and reinstate civil liberties. But of course, this wouldn’t last, and he would eventually pursue and enact far more radical changes.
Castro controlled the politics, economy, and culture of Cuba, and any opposition was suppressed.
Castro nationalized Cuba’s private commerce and industry, and introduced land reform. New policies alienated the United States, and Castro’s anti-American rhetoric offended them. He deepened the distrust the U.S. had of him when he entered a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in 1960. From here, tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were heightened even more due to the Soviet’s presence in Cuba (see the Cuban Missile Crisis).
All the while, Castro armed the government. He issued one-party control over the nation, ruling over it as its dictator. He controlled the politics, economy, and culture of Cuba, and any opposition and political dissent were suppressed.
How Well Did Communism Work, and What Happens If You Speak against It?
On paper, things seemed to be good for the Cuban people, and it was what many young people in the United States currently cry out for – guaranteed employment, guaranteed free healthcare, free education. However, with no trade partners save for the Soviet Union, Cuba’s economy failed to grow. With no money, you can’t realistically fund any of these endeavors.
In reality, Cubans live on rations. Each family is given a ration book, and you’re only ever allowed what’s in it. You can’t buy more, you can’t buy less. Right there is a system of equality. They wait in line for hours just to get groceries and gas.
Each Cuban family is given a ration book, and you’re only ever allowed what’s in it.
When they need medical attention, it doesn’t matter if it’s free or not, because they’re not able to provide advanced medical treatment or even antibiotics.
Even though you’re guaranteed a job, it pays the same as all other jobs, though you do earn a little bit more if you’re in a specialized profession like a doctor.
Why don’t Cubans speak out against these things? Historically, they have faced severe repercussions for daring to leave Cuba, for speaking out against it, or for speaking out against its leaders. In 1980, a ship that was set off-course for Miami would spur the government to go and sink the ship, and kill the remaining survivors, which included several children. This would be known as the Canimar River Massacre, and anyone who survived it was ordered to keep quiet about it.
Even children who had nothing to do with any opposition themselves weren’t spared. Juan Owen Delgado Temprana, the son of a disenchanted former supporter of Castro, was killed while his family attempted to flee Cuba, after having been granted political asylum.
Cubans in America Are Still Fighting for Freedom
Cubans who escaped to America are vocal not only in their fight against the oppressive Communist regime of their native country but also in favor of the values America upholds in contrast. In fact, the American drift toward socialism has caused many Latino voters to reject candidates who openly support socialism and other Marxist ideals. Progressives were horrified to learn that Latino voters were more likely than ever to back pro-freedom candidates in 2020.
So the question is, why are Americans so unwilling to listen to the experiences of people who have escaped Communist regimes? When Cuban refugees speak out about their horrific experiences at the hands of Castro's government, American progressives sweep it under the rug. "That isn't real Communism," they say. Or worse, socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders actively praise Castro's supposed achievements in Cuba. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, another self-proclaimed American socialist, has been noticeably silent as the Democratic Socialists of America seemed to support the Communist regime over the pro-freedom protestors.
But like the freedom fighters in Hong Kong, many Cuban protestors have waved the American flag as a symbol of freedom and resistance. So it begs the question: Why does the American flag still symbolize freedom to so many oppressed people in the world when an increasing number of Americans claim that's a symbol of racism at best and totalitarian nationalism at worst? Perhaps it's the people who have known the true suffering of a tyrannical regime who know the true value of freedom, and it's the Americans who have forgotten its value.
Until now, you didn’t just speak out against the Communist government. But today, we see that changing. The people of Cuba have reached their breaking point, and we see them gathering in the streets, posting on social media (that is until the government shut that down), and fighting – in spite of arrests, in spite of Communists beating them in the streets.
2021 marked the first massive demonstration in a very long time, where people gathered to chant for their freedom, to say no more, to say down with Communism and the oppression they’ve been forced to endure for generations. While they’re Cuban in nationality, their spirit is akin to that of American revolutionaries, whose cries for freedom also rang through history. For now, I can only hope that their cries may spark change for the better in Cuba.
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