The isolated nation of Cuba has had various uprisings throughout its history and more recently, protests that have consistently cropped up over the last 60 years. Cuba is a nation that struggles with many things. Being isolated from the world due to blockades, embargos, and heavy sanctions only serves to exacerbate living under a repressive regime. Cuban life on the island, both socially and politically, is so complex that it would be difficult to find any two Cubans that wouldn’t be at odds about something somewhere down the line. Because we’re passionate about speaking up for ourselves and our people, we can be loud as hell about it too.
This brings us to the most recent protests in Cuba. Many on the political right wasted no time trying to have the next hot take. It led to some seriously bad ones too. Reactionaries routinely fail to consider that Cuba (like most things) cannot be summed up in a tweet or a Facebook post or even a single essay. It’s far too easy to overlook those complexities while pointing at Cuba and grunting, “socialism, bad,” sounding like Captain Caveman. Most people in the U.S. have a stereotypical view of Cubans based on hearing solely from Americanized Cubans who represent but one of various political viewpoints.
Testing Cuban Resiliency
The Cuban people on the island are resilient. They rarely reach out to the outside world for help and instead offer assistance to other countries in any way they can. Some argue that assisting others, such as sending doctors overseas, leaves the Cuban people exposed to a lack of qualified medical personnel. However, looking at the data, Cuba has more doctors per 1,000 people than any other country, with an estimated 28,000 working in before COVID.
Despite an abundance of doctors, the lack of medical supplies and hospital beds to manage COVID just aren’t there. While the U.S. had to stack bodies in refrigerated trucks, Cuba has no available resources to mobilize such equipment on a massive scale. This has resulted in reports of hospitals forcing families to bring the bodies of their loved ones home and figuring out a way to properly dispose of the remains. The massive death toll is eerily similar to what happened in the United States. But with a lack of resources, largely due to the embargo, Cubans are left in a precarious position.
Then came the cry for help via social media.
Cubans, frustrated with a lack of medical supplies, began a call for help from the international community as the island is being ravaged by COVID. Disappointment with the country’s leadership coupled with silence from the United States in terms of providing any assistance is where the protests began online. Organizers vehemently asked for people to not politicize the movement and focus instead on saving lives. But as is always the case, once the news reached Cuba’s neighbors to the North, the polarization of the movement began.
There is a humanitarian crisis in Cuba. Our familia and amigos are dying!
There is no time for politics, we have to act NOW.
— Cubanos Pa'lante (@cubanospalante) July 11, 2021
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CUBA? 🇨🇺
Infections and deaths from COVID-19 are constantly increasing due to the lack of medicine, lack of basic necessities and lack of food. Cubans are in need of an urgent humanitarian aid. This is not about politics.
CUBA NEEDS HELP! #SOSCuba
— Carlo Arrechea (@CarloArrechea) July 10, 2021
The cry for help has since been displaced by anti-Castro political rhetoric. By those who care less for the Cuban people and more about being right. The reality is, Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (along with his predecessors) has much to be blamed and criticized for. Their oppressive policies regarding freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression among other systems denying basic civil liberties are abhorrent. However, Americanized Cubans ignoring the simple ask of not politicizing the call for assistance have taken over the conversation. Despite that, Mexico seems to be answering the call for humanitarian aid, opening the door for other nations to call America’s bluff.
Biden Finally Speaks, Says Nothing
President Biden’s statement saying he stands with the Cuban people was devoid of any substance. He didn’t mention rolling back Trump’s extreme sanctions that crippled Cuba’s economy as he promised on the campaign trail. He didn’t mention the damage done by six decades of oppressive U.S.policies towards the island. He didn’t even mention the COVID crisis killing thousands of Cubans every day.
“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 to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
We stand with the Cuban people as they bravely assert their fundamental and universal rights, and as they all call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering. https://t.co/KGY3MFfsw0
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 12, 2021
Just last month, the United States voted against a United Nations (U.N.) resolution that condemned the economic embargo for the 29th year in a row. Additionally, that opposition came as an outright refusal to return to Obama-era policies, thus maintaining the additional sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. In 2019, Anthony Faiola for the Washington Post criticized the Trump administration’s sanctions as being responsible for creating “deepening disruptions to foreign supply chains, scaring off some of the Canadian and other banks that have helped finance $2 billion in food imports annually.”
Out of 184 countries that voted, the U.S. and Israel are the only two who stood opposed to the condemnation of the embargo and providing relief to the Cuban people. Not a single media outlet has dared to mention Biden’s hypocrisy in failing to fulfill his campaign promise. Until now.
Although most countries have demanded an end to the unilateral embargo of Cuba for nearly four decades —calling it inhumane— the U.S. maintains it because, like most things American, the cruelty is the point. Embargos do nothing to impact the corrupt and despotic leaders of these countries. They only serve to hurt the already oppressed people. When it comes to Cuba, the problem with this strategy is that the Cuban people are aware of this decades-old plan. They know it’s meant to pit Cubans against each other in an attempt to help overthrow Castro’s government. But Cubans aren’t about to go to war with each other. Certainly not for American corporate interests.
Love it or hate it, Cubans will defend “El Pueblo” against their American oppressors before they go to war with each other. This isn’t Batista’s Cuba where white Cubans routinely brutalized Black and Asian Cubans. This is a much more cooperative, community-centered country than Americanized Cubans would have you believe. It’s arguably the most patriotic multiracial country in the world. As many argue that the embargo doesn’t cause any actual harm to the Cuban people, they leave out the part where Cuba is required to pay cash in advance for any products that come from overseas—while the U.S. limits Cuba’s economic power. Companies that export to Cuba, do so at the risk of U.S. sanctions as well.
While Cuba is known to have the best doctors in the world & more dicitrsvper capital than any other country + free health care, there is an extreme shortage of medical supplies, hospital beds, drugs, PPE & other essentials 2/
— mujer_cita_global (@mujer_cita_MIA) July 12, 2021
For the Cubans who chose to stay, for the ones born into this world that stay and fight for a better future; for the generations to come, Cuba is unlikely to relent to American demands anytime soon. For Americanized Cubans, any effort to ease the pain of the Cuban people is demonized as being sympathetic to communism. A view that ignores the humanitarian nature of helping others. Many don’t care about how it benefits Cubans on the island. Instead, they propagandize every effort that only serves to drive animosity towards Cubans.
“The truth is that if one wanted to help Cuba, the first thing that should be done is to suspend the blockade of Cuba as the majority of countries in the world are asking. That would be a truly humanitarian gesture. No country in the world should be fenced in, blockaded.” —Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, July 12, 2021
When Donald Trump took office and reversed Barack Obama’s policies, he went further and declared Cuba a terrorist state. In doing so, additional sanctions limiting flights in and out of the island making medical supplies harder to come by came into play. Seeing so many Americanized Cubans support such policies that harm the people says a lot more than they think it does. It begs the question, what exactly does this group, in particular, want? Supporting further pain on their own people, their home country they fled from, the same country they show constant disdain for, is inexplicable.
In short, there is no doubt the embargo permeates all aspects of Cuban society like a malignant disease and the Cuban people suffer for it. Corrupt leaders never do.
Finding the Truth
Americans and Cubans alike are drowning in propaganda from both sides. The U.S. and Cuba’s histories of providing the public with false information are like wading through waist-deep raw sewage. The benefits of the modern era, however, allow us to hear from the Cuban people on the ground. For the uninitiated, when you listen to the voices you’re probably confused after you hear the myriad complexities of Cuban life. Nothing about it is easy. And it’s so much deeper than a yes or no question about communism
Cubans on the island have been historically ignored by the American people despite being less than 100 miles away. The entirety of the diaspora is constantly mocked and stereotyped based on the behaviors of one subset of Cubans in the U.S. Despite having broad diverse socio-political thought, we are painted with a broad brush because the only voices Americans ever hear from are the anti-Cuban Cubans in America.
Political grandstanding out of Miami doesn’t do Cubans on the ground any favors. https://t.co/CL8UCW54u1
— Ricardo Herrero (@ric23) July 12, 2021
The American people and the media ignore people starving on the island due in large part to U.S. policy. But when Cubans living the fat, groovy, capitalist life in America have something negative to say about Cuba, the press rushes to them. We see the same propaganda game all too often. They’ve been playing it since JFK was president. They’ve been “starving the people” under president after president. All with the same agenda: Open the doors to U.S. corporate interests or die a slow death.
Finding the truth lies in seeing things for what they are. Biden blames Cuba’s problems on the repression of the communist state. Díaz-Canel blames the embargo for Cuba’s problems. The truth is, they’re both right. The embargo on Cuba only serves to exacerbate the myriad problems for the Cuban people. To help the Cuban people something will eventually have to give. But after six decades, it’s doubtful Cubans will blink first. There’s a ton of resentment toward the U.S. right now. That will likely remain unchanged until moves are made to reverse Trump’s policies and return to Obama-era agreements, at a minimum.
To move forward, the Cuban people need dialogue, leaving the far-right elements out of the conversation as they are the biggest factor in shutting discussions down. There can be no room for bigotry of any kind. There can be no talk of U.S. invasions or all-out coups and assassination plots. There can be no more talk of a continued embargo on Cuba. These are all things most Cubans are unwilling to accept.
If the U.S. maintains a hardline stance, there will be no change in Cuba.
Arturo Domínguez is an anti-racist politics nerd, journalist, and founder of The Antagonist Magazine. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several media outlets. He is also a proud member of the Writers and Editors of Color (#WEOC) Collective. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here.