Occasionally there are events that are so surprising, so encouraging, and yet so befuddling, that it’s hard to find words to describe them. What is happening in Cuba is the cause of all of these: surprise, encouragement, yet befuddlement.
It’s certainly surprising to see the Cuban people amass in the streets in protest of their government’s corruption, incompetence, and communist policies limiting human rights. These kinds of protests have not been seen in Cuba since the overthrow of the U. S. backed Batista dictatorship by Fidel Castro and the Communists in 1959. The Communist takeover of the country led to many fleeing Cuba for the United States, and there remains a large Cuban population in the U. S., especially in Florida and Miami, in particular.
Cubans are protesting shortages of food and medicine, inflation, and the government’s handling of the pandemic. But, that this is more than just a response to current problems and represents a dissatisfaction with the Communist system is evident in the shouts of “Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship,” and “Down with communism” heard throughout the protests. “There is no food, no medicine, there is no freedom. They do not let us live,” Alejandro, a protester, told BBC Mundo. Another, unnamed protester, told the BBC, “We are not afraid. We want change, we do not want any more dictatorship.” There were images caught of protesters carrying the flag of the United States as a symbol of freedom and anti-communism.
The president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel, blamed the U. S. for the protests, describing America’s sanctions against the island nation as a “policy of economic suffocation.” Diaz-Canel went so far as to claim that the protesters were U. S.-hired mercenaries sent to Cuba to spark protests against the government. Diaz-Canel called for supporters of the government to take to the streets to fight those protesting. Many protesters were arrested by security forces assisted by plain clothes police. Dissent is not tolerated by the Communist government, and punishments can be harsh. That’s another reason the protests are such a surprise. Those marching in the streets likely know the consequences of their actions will be swift and heavy.
This is what is so encouraging about the protests. For decades the people of Cuba have suffered under a Communist dictatorship. Their rights and freedoms have been limited, as well as their quality of life. Despite what Bernie Sanders may claim, the Communists have not been good for Cuba. That the people of Cuba are finally so fed up that they’re willing to risk severe consequences by protesting their government means that positive change may be on the horizon for Cuba. That protesters look to the United States as an example of a free country means the U. S. is in a position to support and push for that positive change.
This is why the response from so many in the U. S. is befuddling. President Joe Biden said that, “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. … The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. … The U. S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights.” That’s all well and good, but it took Biden several hours to make any statement, suggesting a lack of enthusiasm for a strong response. Also, his State Department’s first response to the unrest in Cuba was to attribute it solely to the pandemic, without a word to suggest that frustration and weariness with a Communist dictatorship might have something to do with it. A second statement from the administration came in a tweet from Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor: “The U. S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.” Okay. Better. But, well, still kind of milquetoast when you think of what the Cuban people have endured over the decades and the rare opportunity this presents itself to the Western states that support democracy and human rights. Somehow, I would have expected a stronger response from the U. S. than an expression of support for protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly over Twitter.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have been condemned by the Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, by Fox News “Varney & Co.” host Stuart Varney, and others, for remaining silent in the face of the protests. Both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are self-described democratic socialists and both have said nothing about the protests in Cuba.
So, here we stand at a historic moment, when the people of Cuba are finally taking to the streets of their country to protest an oppressive regime that the U. S. has condemned from the beginning for its oppression of human rights and dismal economic record, and the Biden administration can barely muster a “good for you!” in support of the protesters, and a “don’t hurt anybody!” message to the Cuban Communists. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I suspect to a lot of people.
Let’s pray for the people of Cuba, and for the Church in Cuba, that she will be a refuge for those brave enough to march and an instrument of peaceful but effective witness against a government that has laid waste to its country. Let’s also pray that those in leadership in the U. S. will have the wisdom and courage to respond well and strongly to the opportunity the people of Cuba are giving the expansion of freedom and democracy.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.