To understand the current situation in Cuba, consider what its unfortunate citizens have suffered for the last one hundred years.
On 20 May 1902, Cuba formally gained independence from the United States and became a republic. Since its inception, corruption has plagued virtually every level of government on this small Caribbean island. In 1909, President José Miguel Gómez became so immersed in corruption scandals that he earned the nickname “The Shark”. His successor Mario García Menocal promised to end the practice but it only intensified under his tenure: his opponents regularly accused him of misappropriation of funds. In 1952, due to allegations of intragovernmental self-enrichment, a military coup (backed by the U.S) ousted then-president Carlos Prío Socarrás and installed Fulgencio Batista. He was no different. An article in the Time magazine from 26 January 1959 describes the corruption endemic under Batista:
“During [Batista’s] seven years the gross national product soared from $2 billion to $2.6 billion, but the public debt rose from $200 million to $1.5 billion. Corruption ranged all the way from army sergeants who stole chickens to Batista himself, who shared with his cronies a 30 [per cent] kickback on public-works contracts. Potbellied Chief of Staff Francisco Tabernilla and his family made off with the entire army retirement fund of $40 million.”
After seven years of bloodshed and corruption under Batista, the Cuban people longed for change. Fidel Castro mobilised his revolutionary forces and deposed him on 1 January 1959. The 30-year-old emerged triumphant from the jungle on 8 January and appeared in an open top jeep on the streets of Havana, where he was warmly welcomed. Most of the people cheering in the crowd had no idea what Castro had planned for Cuba. In accordance with what Robert Michels called the “iron law of oligarchy”, they simply traded one corrupt, brutal dictator for another.
300 Batista officials were executed in the immediate aftermath of Castro’s 1959 take-over of Cuba. From the same Time article:
“The executioner’s rifle cracked across Cuba last week, and around the world voices hopefully cheering for a new democracy fell still. The men who had just won a popular revolution for old ideals — for democracy, justice and honest government — themselves picked up the arrogant tools of dictatorship… The constitution, a humanitarian document forbidding capital punishment, was overridden.”
For the people of Cuba, the nightmare would go on to last six decades. Fidel and his brother Raúl held power as authoritarian, one party communist dictators for longer than any other form of government in the history of Spanish America — longer than all nineteen presidencies combined from Cuba’s fifty years as a republic (1902-52).
Today it would appear the citizens of Cuba have finally had enough. Many are fed up with the government’s chronic mismanagement of the economy. Food shortages and rising prices have driven people to the streets to voice their anger and frustration with Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s current president.
Beginning as a small protest against rolling power blackouts in the town of San Antonio de los Baños, unrest rapidly spread all over the island. Given that the right to protest is tightly regulated in Cuba, the sight of thousands of demonstrators pouring onto the streets chanting “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” suggests that this tyrannical regime could be on the brink of change.
The far-left have sanctified Cuba’s healthcare system
The coronavirus has dealt a severe blow to Cuba’s economy, as the country relies heavily on tourism to generate revenue for its predominantly state-run industry. With this vital sector shut down, the economy has contracted by 11 per cent. The last time the country experienced severe economic problems was when Castro failed to record a 10 million ton sugar harvest in 1970. Under his blood-soaked leadership, the suicide rate tripled between 1969 and 1982. Rates increased so dramatically that the government declared suicide statistics a state secret, concealing them under “unclassified physiological illnesses”.
Cuba is developing its own vaccines: its Abdala vaccine is said to be 92 per cent effective against the virus. A healthy degree of scepticism is necessary, as the ruling party controls all health statistics and other information released to the public. In any case, the virus has run rampant, spreading inexorably among the population.
The far-left have sanctified Cuba’s healthcare system. In 2008, Nikole Hannah Jones, founder of the flawed and racially charged 1619 project, wrote an op-ed venerating Cuban healthcare as an archetypal “world model”. The real story is that it is a two-tier system. The national population has to make do with crumbling infrastructure and a lack of basic medical equipment. While ordinary Cubans must turn to the black market for everyday medicines like aspirin, those in power get exclusive access to special clinics. The state reserves the best hospitals for the governing elite and politicians. The system is reminiscent of Moscow’s Zil lanes, the Soviet regime’s special roads, which were accessible only to the highest echelons of the party during rush hour.
Díaz-Canel appeared on state-run TV to urge “all the revolutionaries [and] communists” to take to the streets to protect the country, i.e., defend the government. Around 300 counter-protestors decided to heed the call. Government forces shut down the internet and fired on protestors while police officers attacked journalists. According to Amnesty International, at least 140 Cubans have been detained or simply “disappeared”.
Under Canel, freedom of the press is non-existent. The country has been rated among the “least free” on the Press Freedom Index: 171 out of 180 countries. For context, that’s just six places above China.
It came as no surprise when Black Lives Matter (BLM) decided to praise the regime. They put a message on Instagram sharing “solidarity with oppressed peoples of African descent, from protecting Black revolutionaries like Assata Shakur…” Shakur is the convicted cop-killer who received political asylum from Castro when she broke out of prison and fled to Cuba in 1979.
BLM’s support for Cuba is a politically naive love letter
BLM and the far-left always attribute Cuba’s problems to America’s ongoing trade embargo with the country. Known in Spanish as “El bloqueo”, sanctions have been imposed on Cuba by successive U.S presidents since 1958. Dianne Abbot has adopted this reductionist and simplistic narrative: tweeting “the blockade is the source of all Cuba’s economic difficulties”. I agree it should end, if only to let the government succeed or fail on its own terms. Lifting the embargo would rob the far-left of the standard “American Imperialism” excuse that they roll out every time Cuba hits the headlines.
Amidst all these trials, is it any wonder that Cubans are packing up and leaving? Their preferred destination is Florida. In 2015 almost one million had taken up residence in the Sunshine State. Others are resorting to more dangerous measures, in some cases using rusted iron sheets as makeshift rafts to cross one hundred miles of shark infested waters in a desperate attempt to escape Díaz-Canel’s decaying dictatorship.
Perhaps this is why Joe Biden doesn’t want Cuban immigrants. For almost a century, the people of Cuba have seen their country wrecked by successive governments who have adopted a totalitarian, centrally planned economic system. Unsurprisingly, Cuban-Americans tend to vote Republican. Among registered voters in the United States, 58 per cent of Cubans identify as Republican.
BLM’s support for Cuba is a politically naive love letter, giving explicit approval to the island’s repressive regime. It absolves the dictatorship of any wrongdoing regarding human rights abuses and the suffering of 11 million Cubans, putting all the blame on the United States.
The people of Cuba know better.
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