Guy Farmer: Cubans yearn for freedom

Guy Farmer

Guy Farmer

Tens of thousands of Cubans — many of them young people — are in the streets of Havana and other major cities in that long-suffering Caribbean country, demanding an end to more than 60 years of rule by a repressive communist dictatorship under the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.
The Wall Street Journal last week reported that street protests are attributed to a young Cuban rap artist with a hit song, "Patria y Vida" (fatherland and life), a takeoff on Fidel Castro's slogan, "Patria o Muerte" (fatherland or death). But Fidel died in 2016 at the age of 90 and his elderly brother, Raul, who turned 90 last month, is seldom seen in public. The new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 61, is a career communist apparatchik. Meanwhile, young people are in the streets.
Late last year popular Cuban rapper Maykel Castillo ignited the San Isidro Movement based on his song, "Patria y Vida," which attracted 6 million views on YouTube. That song contains provocative lines like "No more lies; my people demand freedom." Castillo's movement organized several mass protests, but Cuba's communist authorities finally jailed him in May on charges of contempt and public disorder.
Cuba's prisons are notoriously cruel and harsh, as described in political prisoner Armando Valladares's 1986 book, "Against All Hope." Valladares, who spent 22 years in Cuba's filthy, vermin-infested prisons, wrote about watching executions of his fellow prisoners as they prayed for forgiveness for their executioners.
Returning to present-day Havana, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the right things, but carefully avoided the words "communist" and "socialist," probably in deference to America's best known socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who usually says nice things about Cuba and the Castro brothers, his fellow socialists.
"The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime," Biden said last week. "The U.S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights." Blinken added the Cuban people are "deeply tired of the repression that has gone on for far too long." So far, so good.
Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), whose parents fled the Castro dictatorship, went a step further, urging the Cuban military to stand with the people of Cuba. "The military must defend the people, not the communist party," he said. Good for him.
In a four-hour speech (short, by Castro standards), President Diaz-Canel blamed Cuba's unrest on U.S. "economic asphyxiation," and ordered his revolutionary thugs to arrest several more high-profile activists. Reuters reported "these are the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the island in more than six decades" and said demonstrators are "protesting against the country's dire economic crisis and the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic." Some demonstrators chanted "freedom" and waved American flags, still the most recognizable symbol of freedom around the world.
We remember that former President Obama tried a kinder and more gentle approach to Cuba, even going so far as visiting the island five years ago to take in a baseball game with then-President Fidel Castro, an aspiring baseball player in his younger years. Obama had a fine time in Havana but little was accomplished and his trip was criticized by many of his friends including journalist Juan Williams, who wrote that "President Obama's trip to Cuba leaves a bitter taste in my mouth" because a Castro-like dictator in Panama had discriminated against dark-skinned people like Williams' father and grandfather.
The Wall Street Journal urged Biden "to offer real support for the liberation of this long-suffering nation," and I agree. Supportive words are nice, but actions short of military intervention speak louder than words.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.

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