“Biden’s words of support for the protesters—some of whom waved American flags as they demanded “libertad”—are nice. Actions would be better. And there is plenty the U.S. could, and should, do to aid Cubans in their fight against authoritarian communism.
For starters, Congress could lift the 59-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island country.
Some leftists blame the embargo for impoverishing Cuba, but this is misdirection. Communism has destroyed Cuba’s once-prosperous economy. Still, the trade embargo, in place since 1962, has plainly failed to accomplish its primary goal of toppling the Cuban regime. If anything, it has helped to strengthen it by giving former President Fidel Castro and his successors a way to deflect blame for communism’s failures—a strategy that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel also deployed during the initial wave of protests in July.
From America’s perspective, what has the embargo accomplished? That it remains in place nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union suggests that America has failed to learn the primary lesson of the Cold War: Economic development is the best weapon to aim at communism.”
“where is the evidence that disengagement is working? Demanding political reforms before economic changes is exactly backward—and again ignores the lessons of the Cold War.
Economic freedom is the key to other kinds of freedom. Consider what happened when the Obama administration loosened some of the rules on American travel to Cuba as part of an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations. Even with the trade embargo still in place, that slight policy change induced then–Cuban President Raul Castro to relax state controls on private commerce. While accurate figures on Cuba’s economy are understandably difficult to come by, a 2017 Brookings Institution report estimated that “the number of authorized self-employed people (cuentapropistas) rose from some 150,000 in 2008 to about 580,000 in 2017.”
Increasing entrepreneurship reduces Cubans’ reliance on the Communist state. And when people are allowed a little freedom, they tend to want more of it. ”
“calls for the White House to allow private companies to beam internet service into Cuba to circumvent the government’s blackout and help protesters organize. Technologically, this is possible: Balloons anchored miles offshore could broadcast mobile internet signals into Cuba. The same tech was deployed near Puerto Rico after two devastating hurricanes crippled the island’s digital infrastructure in 2017.
Even if Biden does nothing more than re-instate Obama’s travel and economic policies and call on Congress to end the failed trade embargo, it would signal to the Cuban people—and to the country’s potential future leaders—that the United States recognizes trade and tourism as vital economic and political lifelines for the island’s long-suffering residents. It also would remove the biggest excuse that Cuba’s government uses to distract people from the failings of communism.”
“In 2000, the two countries signed an agreement whereby Venezuela would send Cuba an initial 53,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for the “gratuitous medical services” of “Cuban specialist doctors and health care technicians.” In 2012, Chávez claimed there were over 44,000 Cuban doctors, nurses, ophthalmologists, and therapists working in seven “medical missions” in Venezuela. Julio César Alfonso, an exiled Cuban doctor, describes such missions, which were replicated at a smaller scale in dozens of other countries, as “a booming business for the Cuban government, and a form of modern slavery.” In fact, the state’s earnings, which accounted for the equivalent of USD $6.4 billion in 2018— nearly twice the amount Cubans received from cash remittances—hinge on allowing the medical personnel to keep, at best, a mere quarter of their wages based on the amount Cuba receives per professional.
The humanitarian facade concealed a silent invasion. In 2018, Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, revealed that at least 22,000 Cubans had infiltrated the Venezuelan state, particularly the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. The infamous Helicoide in Caracas, the headquarters of this ruthless spy agency that Chávez created in 2009, is a well-known torture chamber. According to a 2019 CASLA Institute study, members of Cuba’s Intelligence Directorate, commonly known as G2, had their own base of operations in Caracas and were directly involved in the Venezuelan regime’s systematic use of torture against political opponents. Under expert Cuban guidance, Venezuela even turned its intelligence services “on its own armed forces, instilling fear and paranoia and quashing dissent,” as Reuters reported in 2019.
Cuban operatives also have provided security for both Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. In 2019, when journalist Jorge Ramos and his Univision colleagues were held by Maduro’s forces after an aborted interview attempt in the Miraflores Palace, team members detected the Cuban accents of several men within the dictator’s innermost security circle.
If the two countries had become “a single nation,” as Chávez himself assured in 2007, it was because Cuba, that bastion of anti-imperialist Latin American dignity, turned the far larger and richer Venezuela into a colony. Rich, that is, until Cuban and Cuba-backed communists took over. In 2001, at the outset of Chávez’s presidency, Venezuela was South America’s richest country; recently, it was declared poorer than Haiti.
As Venezuela spiraled toward its humanitarian collapse, colonial policy dictated that Fidel Castro’s successors at the helm of the Cuban regime—initially his brother Raul, thereafter Communist Party bureaucrat Miguel Díaz-Canel—summon all their mastery in the arts of intimidation to keep Maduro in power. The Cubans were instrumental in suppressing the massive protests against Chavismo in 2017; in implementing the “revolving-door” technique, whereby certain political prisoners are set free while new ones are incarcerated; and in luring the hapless opposition into dead-end negotiations each time the regime was against the wall. Over the years, in fact, I’ve seen enough reports about Maduro’s certain downfall so as to take the recent, euphoric assurances about the Cuban dictatorship’s imminent end with a grain of salt.
Whether or not the current protests in Cuba endanger the tyranny, they do contain several levels of irony. Not least since the regime that exports doctors and nurses as if they were commodities and touts its decrepit health care system as a global example, fooling gullible Western intellectuals such as Michael Moore, is now facing popular unrest due, in large part, to a severe health care crisis. Although the media has claimed that the pandemic brought the Cuban health care system to the brink of breakdown, this is nothing new. In 2015, a PanAm Post reporter visited a Havana hospital undercover, only to find shortages of basic medical supplies, improvised stretchers, filthy bathrooms lacking doors or toilet paper, wards staffed only by medical students, and patients forced to supply their own sheets, pillows, and medicine. In recent weeks, heightened attention and a broader use of social media tools have made this reality evident to anyone willing to pay attention.”
“Originally developed by Google before being partially scrapped for not being economically viable, Project Loon was a pre-Starlink attempt to bring mobile internet to rural areas by attaching antennas to weather balloons that could function as de facto cell phone towers floating more than 10 miles up in the air. The idea has only been tested on a large scale once—in Puerto Rico during the aftermath of the two devastating hurricanes that hit the island in 2017—but showed some promise. A 2018 test showed that a fleet of Loon balloons could maintain a connection over 620 miles, according to the Associated Press.
Again, Cuba is just 90 miles from the United States.
It’s not a slam dunk, of course. Signals could be jammed by the Cuban government, which already tries to block Radio Televisión Martí as much as possible. Many Cubans’ cell phones might not be able to connect due to differences in network protocols. And whatever connectivity is possible will be slow and spotty, at least by American standards.
But it may be worth making the attempt anyway, particularly since the technology already exists and could be deployed for minimal cost. There’s little to lose, and much that could be gained—not just in Cuba, but in other fights against tyrannical regimes.”
“The US could soon be facing dual migrant crises stemming from unrest in Haiti and Cuba. In response, the Biden administration has preemptively warned migrants not to try to come to the US by boat.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently confirmed that any migrants intercepted by the US Coast Guard off US shores will not be allowed to enter the country — they will be turned back or, if they express fear of returning to their home countries, repatriated to a third country.
“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” Mayorkas said in a press conference earlier this month. “To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking. Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
The policy isn’t new. Past administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have employed this interdiction approach to prevent Caribbean migrants from reaching US shores. But although it was always done under the pretense of protecting migrants from the very real dangers of that journey, it resulted in many Haitians being returned to certain peril in their home country over the years and, under the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, languishing in what one federal judge called a “prison camp” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were held after being intercepted at sea.”
“The vast majority of migrants who passed through Guantanamo were returned to Haiti. A much smaller percentage were able to be paroled into the United States because they passed their asylum interviews.”
“Since the early 1960s, the Cuban government, often with justification, has relied on a critique of U.S. intervention, embargo and hostility to explain its persistent economic difficulties. For many Cubans, however, that formula long ago lost its power. Instead, today’s protestors have targeted the revolutionary imagination itself and its failure to deliver either bread or freedom — whether freedom from domestic or foreign powers.”
“In the first half of the 20th century, the need to shore up the island’s economy meant the relationship with the United States was rarely decided in favor of Cuban autonomy. By the 1950s, the symbols of U.S. economic hegemony in Cuba — from the notorious United Fruit Company in the east to a sprawling, often illicit, tourism economy in Havana — had become galling to many. This, along with the U.S. government’s willingness to prop up an increasingly unpopular dictator (Batista) inspired many to join the movement to overturn his government.
After the revolution against Batista brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, tensions between Cuba and the United States escalated quickly amid Cold War-era U.S. interventions throughout the hemisphere. This geopolitical context inspired and accelerated the radicalization of Cuban domestic politics and gave anti-imperialism an increasingly central place in the government’s rhetoric.”
“Cuba’s economic problems largely predate the pandemic, but the coronavirus sharpened them. It decimated Cuba’s tourism industry, a huge slice of the island’s economy. Trump-era sanctions — which the Biden administration has not rolled back — have added to the pressure. And the pandemic itself is taking a toll: Cuba is currently experiencing a record surge in cases and deaths.”
“Biden said the US supports Cuba’s “clarion call for freedom and relief.” Both Democrats and Republicans have backed the protests, but US lawmakers are split over how to approach the demonstrations and acute humanitarian crisis on the island.
Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to roll back Trump’s sanctions on Cuba, but he hasn’t acted. Now, the issue is urgent — both for those who want to see the sanctions gone and for those who feel Biden must keep them in place to continue pressuring the regime.
Biden’s best-laid plans on foreign policy didn’t include Cuba as a priority. But now a crisis in Cuba is here. What the US should do is always a complicated decision, but it’s clear Biden can’t just ignore Cuba.”
“After the protests, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed much of the unrest on the United States, claiming US-backed mercenaries caused the unrest. He called on supporters to also go to the streets and “defend the revolution.” About 100 people were arrested, according to human rights groups.”
“The specter of United States interference remains powerful in Cuba, given, well, a very long history of US intervention there. Fast-forwarding to the Cuban Revolution in 1959, communist revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator and began to pursue closer ties with the Soviet Union — an absolute no-no for the US during the Cold War.
The US tried to overthrow Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960s, but after that failure, the US strengthened an economic embargo that largely blocked Americans from doing business or trade with Cuba. There have been tweaks on the margins since, but the embargo has long outlasted the Cold War.
In 2014, then-President Barack Obama began a historic diplomatic opening with Cuba, and as a result of the process, rolled back some economic restrictions tied to the Cold War-era US embargo and opened up travel.
Trump, as president, vowed to reverse those policies; he did throughout his time in office, significantly stepping up the pressure starting in 2019. He imposed renewed travel restrictions and other sanctions, including designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terror” in his final days in office. A key pillar of Trump’s sanctions severely limited remittances to the island, which cut off another economic spigot.
As experts said, Cuba’s problems are deeper than US sanctions alone, but the Trump-era policy, especially coming during the pandemic, is adding to the strain. And that is creating a dilemma for Washington.”
“On Sunday, July 11, thousands of Cubans in dozens of cities around the island nation took to the streets to protest the country’s communist dictatorship and persistent shortages in food, energy, and medicine, all of which have been made worse by the pandemic.
The demonstrations have been enabled by social media and the internet, which only came to Cuba in a big way in late 2018, when President Miguel Diaz-Canel allowed citizens access to the internet on their cellphones.”
“Despite being in place since 1962, the trade embargo has plainly failed to accomplish its primary goal of toppling Cuba’s regime. If anything, the policy has likely bolstered the regime by allowing the communist government to blame the U.S. for its own economic problems, as Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel did on Sunday. The trade embargo has contributed to the Cuban government’s impoverishing of millions of Cubans while limiting Americans’ economic freedom, too. That it remains in place nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union shows that America’s foreign policy towards Cuba has failed to learn the primary lesson of the end of the Cold War: Economic freedom is the best weapon to aim at communism.”
“Cuba’s government is authoritarian, but there should be no mincing of words about this. Communism is what broke Cuba. The authoritarianism on display is merely the natural evolution of communist regimes—a pattern of economic and political repression that has been tragically repeated in too many corners of the world during the past century.
Biden’s statement is right to conflate the lack of economic freedom with long-running political repression in Cuba. That’s exactly why America’s trade embargo is such a backward strategy, one that assumes economic and political freedom aren’t fundamentally linked.
Look at what happened when the Obama administration loosened some of the rules banning Americans from traveling to Cuba as part of an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations. Even with the trade embargo still in place, that slight policy change helped create a boomlet of entrepreneurship amid then-Cuban President Raul Castro’s thawing of tight state control over private businesses on the island.”
“Since taking over as Cuba’s president in 2018, Díaz-Canel has cracked down on Cuba’s private sector. Former President Donald Trump helped him smother the nascent economic reforms by reversing some of Obama’s attempts to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations and by slapping new economic sanctions on Cuba just before leaving office in January.
Advocates for maintaining the embargo against Cuba argue that increased trade and tourism would enrich and strengthen the communist regime while failing to aid most Cubans. This was basically Trump’s approach—one that reflects longstanding hardline conservative views about how to handle the communist state just 90 miles from the Florida coast. “There is zero reason to delude ourselves into believing that ‘engagement’ will get the tyrants in Havana to change their ways,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) wrote in January.
This is a clever misdirection. Where is the evidence that disengagement is working? The embargo has been in place for nearly six decades. How much longer should we wait? How much longer should the people of Cuba have to wait?”
“As the people of Cuba strive to cast off their communist oppressors, the United States can do more than simply offer words of support. Undoing Trump’s restrictions on the remittances that many Cuban Americans send to their families still trapped under the communist regime would be a great place to start.
If Biden were to reinstate Obama’s travel and economic policies toward Cuba and call on Congress to end the failed trade embargo, it would be unlikely to immediately change the reality on the ground in Havana. But it would signal to the Cuban people—and to the country’s potential future leaders in the event of a full-scale toppling of the regime—that the United States is prepared to let trade and tourism serve as vital economic and political lifelines for the island’s long-suffering residents. And it would remove one excuse the Cuban government routinely uses to dismiss the failings of communism.”