On July 11, demonstrations erupted in the main cities of Cuba. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets, knowing they risk being brutally arrested, sent to jail, possibly tortured and killed by the police. They reject the communist dictatorship that has oppressed them for 62 years. They shout "Libertad": freedom. Pictured: Police arrest a demonstrator during a peaceful anti-communist protest in Havana, on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images)
Sunday July 11. Demonstrations erupt in the main cities of Cuba. Tens of thousands of people take to the streets. They know they risk being brutally arrested, sent to jail, possibly tortured and killed by the police. They reject the communist dictatorship that has oppressed them for 62 years. They shout "Libertad": freedom. They hold up Cuban and American flags -- once again, the symbol of people who yearn to breathe freely.
Those who dream of communism for the Western world first kept silent, then, while making a few criticisms of the dictatorship in Cuba, blamed it on an American embargo. They failed to point out that if the Cuban dictators cannot trade with the United States, they still can trade with the rest of the world; and also failed to point out that Cuba has nothing to sell: its leaders have destroyed the country's economy.
Governments in Western Europe have made no comment to date; they seem to prefer avoiding the subject.
The Biden administration reacted on the evening of July 11, but its reaction was far from what Cubans must have hoped for. Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary for the US Department of State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs posted a breathtakingly tone-deaf tweet:
"Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need."
Lawyer Ron Coleman responded by posting on Twitter a photo of a German working to destroy the Berlin Wall and adding: "I'll never forget those protests against the German Measles". Journalist Kyle Becker tweeted: "Wow, someone named Julie Chung is lying about communism at the U.S. State Dept. Whodathunkit?"
Chung, it appears, did not know that the "right to peaceful assembly" has not existed in Cuba since 1959, or that the main concern of Cubans today is not COVID, or that the Cuban people cannot "mobilize donations to help neighbors in need". Cubans are not free to act; in addition, they themselves are in desperate need.
Another tweet by Chung read:
"We are deeply concerned by 'calls to combat' in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people's right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence."
She finally seemed to have understood that Cubans do not have the right to assemble peacefully, but evidently still did not understand that Cubans are asking for much more: "Libertad". She also appeared incapable of understanding that calling for calm meant wishing the demonstrations to cease, rather than the government's oppression, and that condemning "any violence" could just as easily be attributed to the unarmed demonstrators, as Cuba's Communist government falsely and viciously attempts to do, and not just to Communist Cuba's police.
On July 12, US President Joe Biden published a clearer statement:
"We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering".
Secretary of State Antony Blinken added the same day:
"The United States stands with the Cuban people seeking freedom and respect for their human rights. Violence against peaceful protestors is abhorrent. We urge restraint and respect for the voice of the people."
Biden's and Blinken's words, however, were just words, hardly likely to scare a brutal dictatorship. The words "dictatorship" and "communism" were not used by Biden or Blinken. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later managed feebly to propose that the protests were the result of "government's economic mismanagement". On July 15, she finally announced, "Communism is a failed ideology, and we certainly believe that it has failed the people of Cuba". On July 16, speaking of Cuba, President Biden finally admitted that "Communism is a failed system -- a universally failed system". But again, they were just words.
Despite this belated condemnation of communism, the Cuban people, who might have hoped for American help, must have felt shattered.
The discovery in the early 1950s of communist spy networks in the service of the Soviet Union; the transmission of top secret information about nuclear weapon designs to Soviet Premier Josef Stalin by American communists, and the investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities had largely destroyed the reputation of the American Communist Party. A decade later, it barely existed in the US.
In notes he wrote in 1952 for an address on the containment policy, the future President John F. Kennedy said that communism is "an enemy, power[ful], unrelenting and implacable who seeks to dominate the world by subversion and conspiracy.... All problems are dwarfed by the necessity of the West to maintain against the Communists a balance of power." When President Kennedy went to Berlin on June 26, 1963, he said:
"There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin".
Changes came fast.
In 1960, an American sociologist, C. Wright Mills, published a "Letter to the New Left," that announced: "We are beginning to move again". The "new left" found many followers among university professors and set in motion what the West German communist activist Rudi Dutschke in 1967 named "the long march through the institutions," based on the "cultural Marxism" theories of the Italian communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. In it, there is always a version of an "oppressor" and an "oppressed" -- economic, racial, sexual, fill in the blank. There is never the possibility of "win-win" or "making the pie bigger," where everyone , as in free market economies, has the opportunity to participate and get rich.
The "aggrieved victim" Marxist model gradually gained ground in vast sectors of the culture, particularly education and politics. It infiltrated the U.S. Democratic Party, pulled it toward Marxist precepts, and has made it fundamentally different from what it had been.
In the 1980s, for instance, an openly socialist politician such as Bernie Sanders could be elected mayor of a small college town -- Burlington, Vermont -- but could not imagine becoming a member of Congress, let alone President of the United States. A few years later, the impossible became possible. In 1990, Sanders was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; then, in 2006, to the Senate. He was one of the main contenders in the Democratic presidential primaries of both 2016 and 2020. Moreover, he is not the only Marxist in the United States Congress today. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush are also members of The Democratic Socialists of America. These Americans of the new Marxist persuasion now seem to have considerable weight in the Democratic Party.
The Cuban revolution received the immediate support of the New Left. C. Wright Mills, who visited Cuba in August 1960, wrote and published a book, Listen, Yankee, in fervent support of the Castro regime. At the same time, the American economists Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy published the book, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution, also singing the praises of Fidel Castro and his project. "It is almost impossible to imagine a revolution with better prospects of success than the Cuban Revolution," they said, adding that the Cuban Revolution was "inspiring the youth and the oppressed everywhere by its magnificent example". For many Americans, support for the Cuban revolution and the Castro regime became a sacred cause.
When Cuba's communist regime in 1971 arrested and imprisoned poet Heberto Padilla, several famous American left-wing writers, philosophers and political activists joined in an "open letter to Fidel Castro" written by Latin American and European intellectuals, supporting "the principles and objectives of the Cuban Revolution", but mentioning that "repressive measures against intellectuals and writers who have exercised the right of criticism within the revolution can only have deeply negative repercussions among the anti-imperialist forces of the entire world". Fidel Castro undoubtedly could not have cared less.
During the following years, there were many other arrests but no more open letters.
In 2003, the American playwright Arthur Miller, after a visit to Cuba, which included a dinner with Castro, wrote in The Nation that Castro was "brilliant, spirited" and expressed no criticism of the Castro regime. Miller only added that "he stayed too long".
The author and activist Michael Moore, in his 2007 film Sicko, praised the Cuban regime and declared that it had created a "free universal healthcare system" recognized as one of the best in the world, that the regime is "one of the most generous on the planet" and that it provides "medical equipment to third world countries".
In 1985, Bernie Sanders also praised Fidel Castro: "He educated their kids," he said in an interview with a local public access channel, "gave their kids health care, totally transformed society". In Sanders' eyes, the transformation had been triumphantly positive. In 2016 and again in 2020, he stood behind the remarks he had made in 1985 -- and these statements apparently did not harm him electorally. In 2020, it took a mobilization of the leaders of the Democratic Party to prevent him from being the Democrats' presidential candidate.
For many years, the mainstream American media when they talk about Cuba, hide reality, rewrite history, and reveal exorbitant biases -- as do most of the media in the West.
In an obituary in the Los Angeles Times the day Fidel Castro died, November 25, 2016, the journalist Carol J. Williams wrote that he had been the "protector of Cuban sovereignty and dignity in the face of Yankee aggression" and that the Cuban "revolution had succeeded in lifting a nation above self-interest and material obsessions ".
In "36 hours in Havana", a report in The New York Times on January 5, 2016, Cuba's capital is described as full of "classic American cars and salsa singers" and as "an old city where the old and the modern are in contrast". The decay of many buildings, the immense poverty of the bulk of the population, the crushing weight of the communist dictatorship are completely left out.
In another New York Times piece, "A Cuba Without a Castro? A Country Steps Into the Unknown", on April 19, 2021, journalists Maria Abi-Habib and Ed Augustin write: "Many older Cubans remember the poverty and inequality they faced before the Castros, and remain loyal to the revolution despite decades of hardship". The authors add that young Cubans "grew up with the achievements of socialism" and that the Cuban revolution made Cuba "a bulwark against decades of American intervention in Latin America".
On July 13, 2021, CNN published an article about the current protests. Its author, Patrick Oppmann, perhaps unsurprisingly blames President Trump. When Trump took office, he relates, he "abruptly disinterred decades of Cold War animosity between the two countries". Oppmann, quoting the dictator who recently replaced Raul Castro, writes: "Cuban President Diaz-Canel said the protesters were criminals". Not the dictators, the protesters.
Many reports contain similar claims. Cuba, before Fidel Castro and the revolution, is generally described in a dark light. There is sometimes criticism of the Cuban revolution but most of the time, the Cuban revolution is presented as a glorious transfiguration. Castro is usually described not as a dictator or a tyrant, but as an important leader; and the US is accused of bellicosity.
All available data, nevertheless, show that before Castro took power, Cuba was far from being in a disastrous situation. In 1958, Cuba's GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing-power parity, was double that of Spain and Japan. Cuba had more doctors and dentists per capita than Britain. Cuba was second per capita in Latin America in ownership of automobiles and telephones, and first in the number of television sets per inhabitant. Cubans could enter and leave the country freely. Fulgencio Batista was a dictator, but Batista's dictatorship was so "fierce" that Fidel Castro, arrested in 1953 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for a failed coup d'état, was pardoned and released by Batista in 1954. Under his own dictatorship, Castro would not have been so lucky.
The Cuban government under Batista was corrupt, but it is difficult to believe that the dignitaries of the Castro regime have not enriched themselves. At the end of his life, Fidel Castro's fortune was valued at $900 million. In the months after he establishment his communist dictatorship, his regime robbed American businesses and handed over the proceeds to incompetent political commissars. Cuban-owned businesses suffered the same fate. The Cuban economy was rapidly destroyed.
All businesses, until recently, have been state-owned. Wages in Cuba are abysmal; the population is effectively destitute. The average monthly salary in 2015 was $18.66. Persecution, imprisonment and torture of anyone who dares to criticize the regime are routine. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have passed through Cuba's reeducation camps since 1959. More than 15,000 Cubans have been executed by firing squad.
The health system is good for regime official and medical tourists who pay in American dollars, but in a sordid state for ordinary Cubans. In 2007, Jay Nordlinger wrote in a detailed, well documented article: "The Myth of Cuban Health Care". "Hospitals and clinics are crumbling," he noted.
"Conditions are so unsanitary, patients may be better off at home, whatever home is. If they do have to go to the hospital, they must bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs - even toilet paper. And basic medications are scarce. ... The equipment that doctors have to work with is either antiquated or nonexistent."
The education given to Cuban children is more a matter of Marxist indoctrination than of a proper education.
As early as 1961, Castro became an ally of the Soviet Union and an agent of destabilization in the service of Soviet goals in several Latin America countries as well as the Caribbean. He brought the world to the brink of nuclear war when, in October 1962, he let the Soviet Union deploy nuclear missiles on the island that directly threatened the United States. From decade to decade, Cuba has served as a training base for terrorist groups, including the Weathermen, Puerto Rico's Macheteros, Argentina's Montoneros, Black Panthers, IRA, and Colombia's FARC.
Cuba's regime, which could have fallen when the Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991-91, survived by opening up to tourism. European entrepreneurs built vacation resorts – after paying the regime handsomely to obtain permits. The salaries the European companies dispense for Cuban employees are actually paid to the regime, which keeps most of the money, and pays Cuban employees the pitiful average salary. Countries that allowed entrepreneurs to invest, in fact saved the regime, enriched the Cuban nomenklatura and contributed to the enslavement of the Cuban population. For a few years, the Chavez regime in Venezuela subsidized the Cuban regime: Venezuela, which thanks to its oil, was once the richest country in South America, is now in ruins and no longer grants subsidies. The Wuhan pandemic again brought Cuba's regime to the brink of collapse.
Millions of Cubans have nothing to lose. They deserve to be supported.
"In 62 years of communist tyranny on the island of Cuba, we have never seen, there's never been, what now is up to 40 cities in which people took to the streets", US Senator Marco Rubio observed. "Socialism and Marxism have done in Cuba what it has done everywhere in the world that it's been tried. It has failed". He added: "The situation is spiraling out of control. We need to act NOW!"
"The Biden Administration," said Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar, "must stand with the Cuban people now — we are demanding immediate actions!"
"Joe Biden must stand up to the communist regime or history will remember," said former President Donald J. Trump. "The Cuban people deserve freedom and human rights."
Sadly, all of these remarks will most likely be dismissed. US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, himself a refugee from Castro's Cuba, immediately threatened his fellow Cubans: While everyone, including criminals who have previously been deported, may freely enter the United States through America's wide-open southern non-border, all Cubans and Haitians fleeing by sea will be returned to their squalor. "The time is never right to attempt migration by sea," he warned them on July 13, "Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States."
Shortly before the uprising, Juan Sebastian Gonzalez, special assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere, announced on CNN that "warming-up measures between Havana and Washington were upcoming" -- meaning, presumably, with the dictatorship, not with the people. President Barack Obama made similar comments when he visited Cuba in March 2016.
The journalist Stacey Lennox noted that Cubans fleeing communism would almost certainly vote Republican; the Biden administration "prefers future citizens they believe will vote for their party".
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.