I came to the United States a decade ago from Cuba, where I was a pro-democracy student activist. The work I did there was light by American standards; With some of my friends, I organized small meetings and collected signatures to present to the government. But my efforts attracted the attention of the secret police, and I eventually moved to Florida as a political refugee.
So it has filled me with hope to see the demonstrations in recent days in Cuba, which would have been unthinkable while I was an organizer there. The fact that hundreds of people publicly demand reforms shows that the regime has weakened and that the people perceive a historic opportunity for change. It can be heard in their shouts of protest: “It’s over! Down with communism! ” It’s over, down with communism.
Much has been made of the recent food shortages on the island and the lack of access to coronavirus vaccines. Certainly that’s fueling some of the current anger. But focusing on these factors ignores the long process of change in Cuba. Disillusionment with communist ideology has grown, not only among Cubans of my generation, but also among older Cubans who believed in the revolution 60 years ago.
The older generation sacrificed freedoms to achieve a communist utopia, but their efforts ended in misery. For example, Cubans were promised a first-class healthcare system, but the result six decades later is dirty hospitals, lack of medicines and lack of doctors, as Cuban doctors are sent abroad for the benefit and propaganda of the State. Other large propaganda programs have also turned into a disaster, such as the vaunted literacy program of the late dictator Fidel Castro. It may still appeal to the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, but it has become a decaying indoctrination tool.
The most significant recent change is communication technology. The use of the mobile phone, the Internet and social networks have allowed Cubans to connect and communicate. During the last uprising in 1994, known as the Maleconazo, the regime easily isolated and repressed the demonstrations by cutting off the few fixed telephone lines. This kept most Cubans from learning about the demonstrations until after they had ended. This time, images of spontaneous demonstrations in two cities far apart were shared on social media, allowing the rest of the country to find out immediately.
Unlike previous demonstrations – such as the Ladies in White (a collective of mothers and wives of political prisoners) and the San Isidro Movement (artists demanding freedom of expression) – these demonstrations have spread beyond their small enclaves and They have been made up of tens of thousands of Cubans, despite harsh repression tactics, which include arbitrary detentions and disappearances.
Technology has helped create a strong civil society. Cubans have seen communities emerge around religion, LGBT issues, politics, entrepreneurship, and even video games. These associations, harmless in a normal society where people freely pursue common interests, are seen as a threat to the power of the communists in Cuba.
A growing movement of social media influencers is also challenging the Communist Party’s monopoly on public speaking. While the flagship program of the Communist Party of Cuba, “Mesa Redonda”, has since 2009 more than 4 million visits and 32,000 subscribers on YouTube, the channel “Cubanos por el Mundo”, which offers independent news and entertainment, has accumulated more 38 million views and 142,000 subscribers since 2013. A popular YouTuber, Alex Otaola, who is largely unknown outside of the Spanish-speaking Cuban and Cuban-American social media niche, has used his provocative comments to push prominent Cuban artists and celebrities to echo his anti-communist message and persuade the Cubans to peacefully fight for freedom in the streets.
Although this uprising is crushed, I am sure that these events are the beginning of the end of the communist regime in Cuba, because people have realized that they can demand their freedoms. Even if the regime retains power, it will be forced to carry out economic reforms and possibly allow more political freedoms. Despite strong repression, my contacts in Cuba tell me that people continue to go to the demonstrations. They are afraid, but they believe that it is the end of the dictatorship. They just want the support of the free world.
The United States can take a leadership role in supporting the demonstrations by applying more sanctions and other measures if the regime uses violence to suppress the demonstrations. More immediately, the Biden government should make it clear to the Cuban regime that causing an exodus, such as the Mariel in 1980 or the raft crisis in 1994, will be considered a hostile action and will be addressed by putting all options on the table. , including military intervention.
Many Cuban Americans like me did not vote for President Joe Biden, but we hope he will reject domestic radicals, including democratic socialists, and fight our foreign communist enemies. Biden has claimed that “he has faced the Castros and Putins of the world.” I let you know: this ends here. It ends with me ”. He also recently called communism a “failed system.” This is the time to act. The Biden administration’s message to the Cuban regime should echo “It’s over!” of the Cuban people. It’s over.
Yuri Pérez is program manager for Latin America at the Memorial Foundation for the Victims of Communism.