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Something wondrous has happened in Cuba: For the very first time in the 62 years since the Castro dynasty turned the island into a totalitarian dystopia, Cubans have taken to the streets from one end of the island to the other, denouncing their repressive regime and calling for freedom.
They can be seen and heard on YouTube and social media, chanting “Liberty,” “Down with the dictatorship” and “Down with communism.” And they can also be heard shouting a challenge to their rulers: “We are not afraid.” That chant is a taunt, a war cry, a rebel yell. And it is coming mostly from young Cubans, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the so-called revolution.
You have to live in a place like Cuba — where an inordinate percentage of the country’s budget is dedicated to keeping Big Brother’s eye fixed on you — to appreciate the magnitude of the fearlessness and despair needed to loosen one’s tongue out on the street.
The protests are among the most dramatic proof ever offered of the failure of a tropical dictatorship that has driven 20 percent of its people into exile. Innumerable promises for a brighter future have been made during this time by the military junta that has ruled Cuba since the days when cars had tailfins and the top songs in the US charts were Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Domenico Modugno’s “Volare.”
Well, surprise, surprise, the future is here, and the youngsters can clearly see that all of those promises have turned out to be lies. Now, those who were supposed to reap the benefits of decades of sacrifice, self-denial and unquestioning obedience demanded by Big Brother are out on the streets, shouting at their aging masters — and the world — that they are tired of living a lie.
But why now? A perfect storm of calamities caused this sudden eruption of fearless dissent. Lately, life in Cuba has become more unbearable than ever for just about every Cuban, except those who rule the place. The crisis is due to a long string of blunders and catastrophes.
Here are a few: the loss of revenue from Venezuela; a collapsed economy; gargantuan foreign debt; a disastrous sugar harvest; uncontrolled inflation; a plague that is intensifying rather than abating; a collapsing health system; medication, food, water and electricity shortages; long lines and empty shelves at every store; and increased repression.
Never mind the sanctions by the United States or the so-called embargo that Cuba’s military junta and many of the world’s news outlets blame for the current crisis. These are inconsequential factors, a blame-shifting decoy. When it comes to assigning blame, much more is truly deserved by the thousands of tourists invited back to Cuba’s apartheid resorts prematurely and irresponsibly as new strains of COVID-19 were emerging.
These foreign “dream-holiday” seekers are a significant component of this year’s perfect storm, but, thanks to the country’s apartheid, most Cubans remain unaware of their presence on the island or of the infections they have passed on to employees at the resorts, who have then brought the virus to their homes and neighborhoods.
Another factor: The Castro dynasty has vanished. Fidel is dead, his ashes tucked away in a monolith that looks like a prop from the “Flintstones” movie. Raúl has slunk off stage at age 90, without any applause. And after a great deal of minister-shuffling at the most recent Communist Party Congress, the man left in charge — ostensibly — is Miguel Díaz-Canel, a hulking figure without an ounce of charisma who seems incapable of saying anything halfway intelligent or inspiring.
Assuming the persona of Big Brother is beyond his ken, so despite all the rhetoric he and his ministers spew about the “continuity” of the revolution, Cubans can see that he really hasn’t inherited any mantle. One can only pray that he will prove as inept at repression as he has at inspiring confidence.
The young — who feel they have the most to lose by remaining silent, with nothing but a bleak future on their horizon — have taken to the streets as no one has dared to do up until now on such a scale.
Carlos Eire is the T. L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University. Adapted from National Review.
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