In Cuba, Where There’s Fire, There’s Anti-Government Propaganda (OPINION)

Sep 12, 2022
1:24 PM

The five-star Hotel Saratoga is heavily damaged after an explosion in Old Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HOUSTON — In the months since an explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana killed 47 people, and weeks after 14 firefighters died fighting the oil fire at the port in Matanzas, recent fires at state-owned and military facilities are leading people on social media to draw various conclusions.

Many have been discussing whether the U.S. government or Cuban exiles in the United States are responsible for stoking discontent amid near-constant power outages on the island. A quick browse through Twitter and Facebook confirms that despite the lack of evidence, many Cuban Americans are suggesting the fires are related to an uprising against the government—as Americans tend to do whenever anything damaging to the Cuban state occurs.

The propaganda that comes out of the United States relating to Cuba (and Latin America) is as strong as that of the Cuban government. Besides conservative Cubans employing xenophobia towards the mostly Afro-Cubans coming to the United States, they are also promoting the destabilization of the country and forcing it into deeper turmoil.

There is no question that Cuban-American views vary greatly, just as they do within other voting blocs. Humanitarian-minded Cubans typically lend their voice to ending the embargo against the island and opening up a relationship with the Cuban government similar to the U.S. alliance with Vietnam and other communist nations. The fact that the United States openly works with other countries around the world with similar government and not its own neighbors isn’t lost on anyone.

As pro-government Cubans continue to suggest the CIA is behind the fires—not an uncommon theory—anti-government Cubans suggest a very unlikely revolt is on the horizon. Still, there is little question that government actors, such as the U.S. Department of State, are spreading disinformation about Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and their comrade nations.

Latin Americans and their descendants are aware of how the U.S. government frames things in the hemisphere. Whether there is a Democrat or Republican sitting in the White House, the policy of influencing what happens in the region is akin to a standing order. The U.S. isn’t going to simply back down after interfering with nearly every country south of the border for over a century. In the U.S., corporate interests sit above all else.

For that reason, the U.S.’ deployment of purposeful misinformation should not come as a surprise.

Fires Seemingly Everywhere

In August alone, several state-owned restaurants were among several facilities that caught fire and suffered extensive damage. But the more prominent incidents that have people talking are the fires that occurred on military bases. While the fires took place at the recreational facilities on the grounds, many Cubans have drawn a parallel to how the Cuban Revolution started.

In July 1953, Fidel and Raúl Castro, accompanied by 70 fighters, began a multi-pronged attack on military installations across the island. The initial attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, Cuba was a failure, landing the brothers in prison. Two years later, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was pressured into releasing all political prisoners on the island, including Fidel and Raúl, who fled to Mexico where they joined other exiles and began planning the overthrow of Cuba’s government.

By 1955, student protests and riots were commonplace on the island. The Batista regime dealt with the uprising through repression and labeled the young people as revolutionaries. In April 1956, another group launched raids against army barracks using Castro’s attack as a blueprint to start a revolution.

Then, in November 1956, the Castro brothers, accompanied by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and others, landed in Playa Las Coloradas and made their way into the Sierra Maestra mountains. These events led to many attempted uprisings, U.S. involvement in protecting Batista’s regime (supplying weapons and air support), and a Cuban military offensive in the mountains against the rebels that ended with the defeat of Batista’s army.

For Cuban Americans who have fled the island, they see the Saratoga Hotel explosion, the fire at the oil facility in Matanzas, and other recent fires as hopeful signs that another uprising similar to the Revolution is imminent. The reality is that most Cubans still support the government and its openness to adopting more progressive economic and social policies.

As is the case in the United States, the loudest among them represents a minority of the population. They argue that they are somehow being oppressed while simultaneously promoting repressive policy ideas on the island.

For many Cuban Americans, similar double standards exist as well. Much of their opposition to the new family code in Cuba, which grants equal rights to gay and trans people, is based on the same fear-mongering in the United States.

Spending just a short amount of time watching Spanish-language news, whether in the U.S. or in any Latin American country, explains why such misinformation is spreading so fast. Much like Americans in the U.S. who are being convinced that they are losing their rights to the LGBTQ+ community, for example, Latinos are similarly being targeted by propaganda through Spanish-language media.

The difference is that Spanish-language content remains largely unchallenged.

No Uprising Anytime Soon

While Cuban Americans remain hopeful, unfortunately for them, there won’t be any uprisings against the Cuban government anytime soon. Protests are happening nearly every day in various communities experiencing blackouts, but correlation isn’t causation. The Cuban government has addressed only one fire that they suspect was set intentionally by Cubans who are angry about the electricity issues on the island. The rest have been proven to be unintentional.

Anti-government writers and influencers never talk about efforts the Cuban government is making to supplement the power grid, open up its economy to foreign business, and subsidize the private sector. Cuba imported several Turkish power plants on barges and is looking to install many more to address current electricity issues. All of these policies have created tangible benefits for Cubans.

Few in U.S. media will report on any of these things. Most journalists take what the State Department says without challenging its statements, typically reporting on the information provided by the government and nothing else. Government claims are taken at face value and reported as fact.

Not questioning such narratives is dangerous for people living abroad who have been targeted by the military-industrial complex and U.S. corporate interests (see: Iraq and Afghanistan). Wall Street has always influenced U.S. foreign policy. Months after a coup in Bolivia removed socialist leader Evo Morales in November 2019, to the benefit of electric car manufacturers who wanted access to the country’s lithium deposits, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Musk said the quiet part out loud.

While Latin America and the Caribbean continue to stand by Cuba in its times of need, the United States unflinchingly denies the Cuban people any assistance regardless of how dire their plight may be. Cubans on the island acknowledge and recognize this as more repressive than anything the Cuban government does.

The richest nation in the world also has the most power and influence. This plus its blatant disregard for human life at home and abroad leaves the vast majority of Cubans with a deep resentment toward the United States. If U.S. citizens think Cubans will go to war with each other at the behest of those that fled the island—or even at the command of the U.S. government—they should adopt a new strategy and expectations.

As Spanish-language U.S.-based propaganda continues to spread unabated online, debunking it and countering the messaging has never been as important as it is today—for Cubans, even more so.


Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American, anti-racist, journalist, and the publisher of The Antagonist magazine. Twitter: @ExtremeArturo