In The Bridge at Andau, a brilliant 1957 book that should be more widely read today, James Michener documents the exodus of Hungarians into Austria after their 1956 insurrection against Russian rule was crushed. There was only one escape route, which the Russians alternately closed and reopened—a result of a debate among the Communists, some of whom wanted to keep the insurrectionists inside the country so that they could be found and killed, while others wanted the discontented to leave so that those who remained would be the more easily led. The latter approach won out—and proved successful. A similar circumstance may explain why Cubans, a famously fiery people, have never overthrown their Communist oppressors in spite of the pervasive misery of life on an island where they have been subjected to dictatorship, repression, indoctrination, censorship, desperation and borderline starvation: the most discontented can flee to Miami.
Although Miami has been the traditional refuge of Cuban dissidents for centuries—an escape from the Spanish yoke, the petty dictatorships of Machado and Batista and the pre-Castro Communists—before Castro took power more than sixty years ago, the number of migrants was relatively small. Even since Castro’s takeover, many Cubans who despise the regime and have suffered deprivations have declined to leave. This is not necessarily because escape seems impossible: many Cubans visit relatives in the US, and still return home. Perhaps they stay for the same reason that some people living in hurricane zones are unwilling to leave their homes when a Category 5 storm is approaching.
Nevertheless, during the Castro regime, an estimated 10% of the population has fled to Florida and elsewhere. Thus, Miami has served as a pressure valve for the regime. In 1980, after a group of Cubans crashed through the gates of the Peruvian embassy to ask for asylum, Castro contemptuously announced that any malcontent was free to seek asylum. In response, a huge number of people swarmed the embassy, and the result was the Mariel boatlift—the emigration of around 100,000 Cuban citizens who, had they been unable to leave, might have later overthrown the government. Castro was furious at how many chose to leave.
In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev informed Castro that Russia could no longer keep the island afloat economically. This inspired the so-called special period: whereas, previously, people caught fleeing the island by sea had been killed, they were now allowed to leave. Castro opened the safety valve, and the regime was saved once more.
The Cuban government also found new ways to raise money. It sent Cuban doctors to countries in need of medical personnel—in return for which the countries paid the Cuban government. It allowed exiles to return to Cuba to visit relatives—for a fee. And it began a programme to increase tourism, promoting the country’s superb beaches and offering tours of Potemkin villages. Tourism did increase, but as a side effect, Cuban discontent also increased as the locals saw visitors—whether tourists or exiles—wearing fancy clothes that they could not afford to buy and eating great food at hotels that they were forbidden to enter. And the exiles brought gifts to their relatives—televisions, medicine, clothes, DVDs, pocket calculators, rollerblades—that were otherwise unobtainable on the island.
The Cuban government’s hold on power was also reinforced by the many westerners who praised aspects of the regime—including, in the US, Michael Moore, Ted Turner, Oliver Stone and Bernie Sanders. In addition, certain leftist American journalists and, occasionally, Hollywood movies, sanitized the regime.
At the same time, acts of political or artistic defiance and human rights protests, either by individual and groups, began to increase. While some protestors, such as Yoani Sánchez and the Ladies in White, were allowed a small degree of freedom, most protesters were beaten, arrested and imprisoned, and videos critical of the regime (including many on YouTube) were censored. A disorganized and aimless mass protest in Havana in 1994 (“el Maleconazo”) was quickly put down.
This time around, however, the situation looks different. The mass protests that are currently taking place are much more of a threat to the regime than any that have come before. For one thing, they are nationwide; for another, the protestors are saying things that are openly anti-government—chanting “Freedom!” and, more significantly, “We are not afraid!” And, perhaps most significant of all, the US is no longer offering a welcome mat. President Biden’s administration has announced that Cubans will no longer be allowed into the US.
Cuba’s government has responded, once again, by bringing the forces of repression to bear and, along with foreign supporters, blaming the usual scapegoats: the United States, the US embargo, and Cuban-Americans (it has even blamed a Cuban porn star for the uprising). Ordinary Cubans no longer buy that line; apparently the only people who do are some Americans and Canadians. This time, the regime may finally be overthrown: but that will ultimately depend on the answer to just one question: will the Cuban armed forces join the protestors, and turn their guns against the government?
“Teaching CRT dogma in schools as if it were fact should not be allowed to continue.” Okay, let’s be clear here – what do you mean? I mean, I think I know but when Texas Republicans decided they wanted to ban CRT, they through in the “I Have a Dream” speech by MLK and I’m assuming that is not what you mean when you say we should ban CRT dogma in schools. That’s the problem I have with articles like this – there isn’t enough nuance, there’s essentially one point of view – the one we’ve been fed, but we’re still no closer to understanding what the implication of banning “CRT” means and as a result, a lot of stuff is being thrown in with it. So what are we talking about banning? Let me list a few examples: – “Every white person is racist and is personally responsible for… Read more »
It would be nice to think that if the Cuban people overthrew the present regime, the replacement would be representative democracy, free elections, and government accountability. It would also be nice to think that the US would end its embargo and begin to openly trade with Cuba once again. It would be nice to think that the Cuban expats who are restless to get back to the island are simply eager to help restore the economy in a fair and equitable way so that there were actual checks and balances on greedy capitalism. It would be nice to think that honest intelligent business people would gain control of the tourist resorts from the military-run conglomerate, and lower the costs for tourists while at the same time raising the wages and bettering the working conditions of the people who work at these resorts. It would be nice to think that the… Read more »
I much prefer the history based situation in Cuba given on the Counterpunch website by Helen Yaffe’s essay Whats Really Happening in Cuba, and Peter Bolton’s essay Washington’s Weaponization of Protests in Cuba.
And the various essay re the historical situation in Cuba available here: http://thirdworldtraveler.com/Cuba/Cuba_page.html
Unfortunately in my country (Brazil) the left uses the same “arguments” that the US is to blame for Cuba’s situation, using every possible excuse to defend the regime. Former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva or simply Lula (the country’s greatest leftist leader) has always been an admirer of Fidel. Last week he said that if it weren’t for the 60-year blockade imposed on Cuba it would be a Netherlands today. When it comes to Cuba, the problem is not the dictatorship itself but the enemies of the revolution, the American capitalists. The enemies of a country with “quality public health and education.”
Cuba is a myth, a myth fueled by the cheap rhetoric of insane people. People with double standards, because they condemn oppression depending on who the oppressor is. It’s shameful!