Below is my gift to help with the conversations happening about Cuba since the 7/11 uprising.
Cubans have taken to the streets to voice their discontent with their government.
Why is this a big deal?
Unlike the United States of America where the government is “for the people and by the people” (thank you Abraham Lincoln for this quote), Cuba’s government is for the revolution. The revolution is for communism. Communism is not for the people it is for the government. Communism is when everything is run by the government. There is no private enterprise, there is no free speech, there is no freedom of religion, there is no right to bear arms, there is no right to gather peacefully.
For over 60 years, fear and paranoia has kept the Cuban people in check. Those who have spoken out, stating facts of their existence, have been jailed, killed, or mysteriously disappeared. To speak out, means things are really bad. To speak out, means the people are fed up. To speak out, means the government’s power may be diminishing a bit… But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
Is the answer = End the Embargo/Blockade?
Yes and No. There need to be several solutions to help the Cuban people.
On the one hand, the embargo has been a tool the Cuban government has used to relinquish all responsibility towards the wellbeing of the Cuban people. They say: You are hungry because of the embargo. There are no vaccines because of the embargo. The healthcare system is in shambles because of the embargo. See how easy and convenient it has been for the Cuban government to not fess up to its own failures.
On the other hand, the embargo has been a tool by the US government to try to bring the communist regime to its knees. It is a tool that hasn’t accomplished its goal in over 60 years. This “tool” restricts trade with the island causing a lack of economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans. It limits access to US grown food, medicines, clothing, cars, building materials, basically anything made in America. The US has tried and failed to have other countries join them in the embargo. The UN has asked about 29 times for the US to end the embargo as it has caused undo hardship, death, and hunger to the Cuban people. Saying it is denying Cubans their basic human rights. In June 2021, the Biden administration joined a long line of administrations voting against the UN’s desire to lift these sanctions. The USA continues to use the embargo as a blunt tool towards ending communism in Cuba.
In my humble opinion, the US doesn’t have the cojones to end the embargo. Trump didn’t, Obama made a lame attempt, Biden hasn’t. In a very simplistic world, lifting the embargo may help the Cuban people in the short term, but it may help the Communist Regime in the long term. Remember in a communist country the government owns EVERYTHING. Even if it looks like the government is “allowing” Cubans to own a business or restaurant, rest assured those people are paying extreme taxes and can have their license to operate withdrawn at any time for any reason. But, if you are serving tourists – you will be mostly okay because tourism is the key to the Cuban economy. In Cuba, Cubans are second class citizens to tourists…
Sound familiar? Being a second class citizen to Americans one of the propaganda messages used by Fidel and his fellow bearded revolutionaries to fuel support against Batista and his dictatorship’s focus on corrupt American businessmen. (side note: Good old Fidel thought in 1959 that he had the support of the US government, but when the US said no way – Fidel went straight to the USSR). But let’s go back even further to what inspired the Spanish American War – the US involvement in Cuba’s war of independence from Spain in the 1898. It was fueled by Cubans being second-class citizens to those born in Spain. All change in Cuba has been fueled by oppression.
Can’t Cuba buy/trade with other countries?
Simple answer, No. The USA is everywhere. The embargo restricts trading with US currency, does not allow US banks to work with Cuban banks, products made with US parts can’t be sold/traded with Cuba, cargo ships coming from or going to Cuba cannot stop to refuel in US ports. Cuba has attempted to trade with China and Venezuela and Russia, but those relationships were unsustainable.
Can’t Cubans grow their own food?
Yes and no. Cuba is complicated. Cubans are complicated. Trust me I have personal experience with this.
Cubans can have a farm, they can grow food, and raise livestock, but they can’t sell the food directly to other Cubans. What they grow is owned by the government. Only the government can sell the food. I’m not even sure the farmers can even eat the food they grow without some fear that the government may penalize them.
You may have heard about Cuba being at the forefront of organic farming. Well, that is mainly because they can’t buy pesticides/herbicides/other toxins, from the US. They don’t have tractors, they have oxen, and when they don’t have an ox, they plow the fields by hand. But the biggest ingredient in farming and any kind of business venture is competition, the desire to do better, to be innovative. The Cuban people are innovative, just look at all the 1950s American cars still driving around without any new parts, but communism squelches any competition. In a communist system, people are only part of the government machinery. There is no freedom to think for yourself.
What about the black market?
This is where Cubans typically get most of their food and other stuff like furniture. But, the black market’s currency is…. You guessed it, US dollars. And most of those US dollars came from the Cuban exile community in the US, as remittances. So you were okay if you had family and friends in the US, but that left those without family in the US dependent on the government rations. In 2020, the Trump administration stopped all of remittances from the US. Essentially, drying up a large source of currency to the island.
Yes, Cubans get free medical care. But as someone once put it – they are getting medical care with equipment that is 60 years old. They have ways to produce their own medicine, but guess what – a lot of that comes from the US. Their innovation with less has led to promising discoveries – such as this episode on PBS’s NOVA series called “Cuba’s Cancer Hope.” Cuba has an amazing number of doctors – but they send those doctors overseas in what on the outside looks like a humanitarian mission, but on the inside is a revenue stream for the Cuban government. Currently, Cuba did not join COVAX – the WHO’s system for distributing COVID-19 vaccines in supposedly fair manner. In March, an NPR story shared the enthusiasm and optimism of the Cuban government’s attempt to make the first COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising in Cuba. Vaccinations are slow and the Cuban Abdala vaccine has been found to be over 90% effective and there are efforts underway to vaccinate all Cubans by the end of 2021.
A few more thoughts…
There is so much more I am not going into. Cubans are survivors. They have been for over 60-years. They have figured out how to live in the repressive communist system. The pandemic, the loss of tourism dollars, the loss of US dollars from remittances, has thoroughly uncovered the failures of the Cuban system. Thanks to social media, young Cubans are seeing how their world could be different. They are getting ideas on how to make Cuba a better place to live. They are seeing how they are not free.
End Note on Cuba
I leave you with the words of Cuban revolutionary, poet, anti-colonial activist, Jose Marti. From the chapter titled “Sobre la Libertad, On Liberty” in the book “Pensamientos/Thoughts,” an anthology by Carlos Ripoll.
“Libertad es el derecho que todo hombre tiene a ser honrado, y a pensar y a hablar sin hipocresia.”
“Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.”
“Como el hueso al cuerpo humano, y el eje a una rueda, y el ala a un pajaro, y el aire al ala, asi es la libertad la esencia de la vida. Cuanto sin ella se hace es imperfecto.”
“Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect.”
Viva Cuba Libre!