Something truly prodigious has just happened in Cuba. For the first time in the 62 years since the Castro dynasty turned the island into a totalitarian dystopia, Cubans have taken to the streets from one end of the island to the other, denouncing their repressive government and clamoring for freedom.
The protesters could be seen on YouTube and social media, chanting “freedom”, “down with dictatorship” and “down with communism” rhythmically, as if they were prayers of resolute pilgrims.
They could also be heard shouting a challenge to their rulers: “we are not afraid”. This chant is nothing like a prayer. It is a provocation, a battle cry, a rebel cry. And it comes mainly from young Cubans, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the so-called Revolution.
Anyone who has lived in a free and open society, accustomed to frequent displays of discontent with the status quo, where none of the participants in this are beaten or thrown into prison, cannot even imagine the courage or despair needed to express dissent in a totalitarian dictatorship like Cuba’s. No idea, really.
You have to live in a place like this, where an inordinate percentage of the country’s budget is devoted to keeping Big Brother’s eyes. [o Estado] fixed on you, in order to gauge the magnitude of fearlessness and desperation it takes to drop your tongue in the street beside your neighbors.
These protests are among the most dramatic evidence ever offered of the failure of the tropical dictatorship, which has been calling itself a “Revolution” for six long decades and which has driven 20% of its people into exile.
Numerous promises for a better future have been made during this time by the military junta that has ruled Cuba since the days when cars had fish tails and the top songs on the US charts were Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Domenico’s “Volare” Modugno.
Well, the future is here, and young people can clearly see that all these promises turned out to be lies.
Now, those who should reap the benefits of decades of sacrifice, selflessness and unquestioning obedience demanded by the state are on the streets, screaming at their masters – and at the world – that they are tired of living a lie.
The response from Cuba’s oligarchs has been predictable. Immediately, Internet access was stopped – and it’s still disabled three days later.
Soldiers, police and mobs of thugs incited by the country’s grim president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, attacked the protesters, shooting at them, beating them with clubs and pushing as much as they could into vehicles that took them straight to prison or they simply made them disappear.
Díaz-Canel staged a counter-protest surrounded by a squad of bodyguards and burly members of the ruling class who had no choice but to accept his invitation to this event.
He also appeared on television and called on all “revolutionaries and communists” to “fight the mercenaries paid by the American government”, take back their streets and “protect” the sacred “Revolution”.
Causes of dissent
This sudden eruption of fearless dissent was caused by a perfect storm of calamities, all of which revealed the great lie of the so-called Revolution as no other crisis has done before.
Lately, life in Cuba has become more unbearable than ever for almost all Cubans except those who rule the place. The crisis is due to a long series of serious mistakes and catastrophes.
There are too many to list in total, but here are a few: Venezuela’s loss of income, a collapsing economy, gigantic foreign debt, a disastrous sugar harvest, runaway inflation, a plague that is intensifying rather than diminishing, a system of collapsing health, lack of medicines, lack of food, lack of water, long lines and empty shelves in every store, lack of electricity and increased repression.
Forget about US sanctions or the so-called embargo that the Cuban military junta and many media around the world blame for the current crisis.
These are unimportant factors, a blame-shifting lure, deftly manipulated by the oligarchs for a long time to divert attention from their own abject ineptitude and the birth defects of communism they embraced and imposed on all Cubans.
When it comes to assigning blame, it is much more deserved by the thousands of tourists invited to return to the resorts of apartheid in Cuba prematurely and irresponsibly, as new varieties of Covid-19 were emerging.
These “dream vacation” foreigners are a significant component of this year’s perfect storm, but thanks to the apartheid of the country, most Cubans do not know of their presence on the island, or of the infections transmitted to employees of the resorts, who then carried the virus to their homes and neighborhoods.
Another significant component of this year’s perfect storm is the undeniable fact that the Castro dynasty has vanished. Fidel is dead, his ashes hidden in a monolith that looks like an ornament from the Flintstones movie.
Raúl escaped from the stage at age 90, without any applause, let alone a public acclaim. And after a great mess of ministers at the most recent Communist Party Congress, the man who took charge – apparently – is Miguel Díaz-Canel, a burly figure without a shred of charisma who seems incapable of saying anything almost intelligent or inspiring.
assume the persona of Big Brother and sell the Big Lie [Grande Mentira] are challenges beyond his comprehension, so despite all the rhetoric he and his ministers spew about the “continuity” of the so-called Revolution, Cubans can see that he hasn’t really inherited any robes, but is really naked, so to speak, as the main character in Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
We can only hope and pray at this point that he will prove as inept at repression as he is at inspiring confidence.
These protests are not really about the pandemic or shortages falsely attributed to US foreign policy. The end result is that these protesters know that the ultimate cause of their anguish is lack of freedom in all spheres of life, which is nothing new.
So young people who feel they have the most to lose by remaining silent, with nothing but a bleak future on the horizon, have taken to the streets as no one has dared to do so far on such a scale.
As John Suarez, director of the Center for a Free Cuba, said yesterday: “What is causing problems in Cuba is the internal blockade that the regime has imposed on Cubans, and that is why Cubans are protesting against the regime. They are not in front of the US Embassy protesting the US embargo, they are protesting the government because they know who is responsible for what they are suffering. It’s not an accident.”
Carlos Eire is Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.