The people of Cuba have long since had enough of the Castro regime and its broken, communist dictatorship. The past week has seen Cubans taking to the streets across their country in an effort to voice their opposition to the failed authoritarian government and call for its reform – not, as some have reported, to simply protest their frustration with how the Cuban government has handled the Coronavirus.
These protests are significant, and how the Biden Administration chooses to respond to them is of paramount importance to Cuba’s future. The Obama Administration, of which much of Team Biden was a part, sought to ease relations with the communist regime. It loosened restrictions on trade, telecommunications, and financial services, all of which made the Castro government and its cronies richer at the expense of the Cuban people. It normalized diplomatic relations with the regime, giving it a legitimacy that it could never have hoped to obtain in previous years. Top Obama officials even attended the funeral of Fidel Castro. And others on the Left, like Bernie Sanders, have even expressed sympathy for the communist regime.
All this was based on the fiction that by easing our relations with this communist, authoritarian regime, they would become more like us. There was a pernicious underlying assumption as well that it was America’s policies towards Cuba that were to blame for their isolation abroad and brutal repression at home. This fiction is essentially being trotted out now by Cuban “President” Miguel Díaz-Canel, who in a public address alleged that the United States had instigated the protests, and that it was our embargo causing their own economic woes and food shortages.
The Biden Administration’s response to this claim has been mixed – while President Biden offered clear support for the Cuban people in their calls for freedom, Secretary of State Blinken offered a weak response to Díaz-Canel’s allegations (calling them a “grievous mistake” rather than a bald-faced, self-serving lie) and his Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, characterized the protests as “the Cuban people exercise[ing] their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages.”
They perhaps should be reminded that in Cuba, the right of the people to peacefully assemble is not protected by the government. And protestors to COVID don’t waive American flags and shout “freedom.” The regime did not allow these protests to take place; it was simply caught off guard. Over the past few days, this “right to peaceful assembly” has been brutally and violently suppressed by the Castro regime. The Internet is shut down across the country to ensure protesters cannot communicate. And those protestors injured in the protests by the police are being denied medical care. It’s textbook authoritarian communism.
President Biden pledged during his campaign to reverse the Trump Administration’s policies toward Cuba – but doing so would be a grave mistake. The Cuban regime’s brutal response to these protests, and their mendacious, malicious attempts to blame the United States rather than their own inept, ineffective government should be evidence enough that they cannot be trusted to reform. The Trump Administration understood this – rather than court the Castro regime, we reversed the failed strategies of the Obama era.
In every facet of our policy towards Cuba, we were intent on denying the Castro regime resources it could use to oppress its people at home, and on countering its malign interference in Venezuela as well as the rest of the Western Hemisphere. We rightfully redesignated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism for providing safe harbor to terrorists. We reimposed the embargo policies which the Obama Administration had done away with. We enacted the toughest economic restrictions on Cuba in decades. These policies must stay in place because costs must be imposed on the Castro regime for its actions. Otherwise, it will only grow richer off the Cuban people’s suffering and grow bolder in its efforts to sow chaos throughout the region as it has done in Venezuela.
In addition to cracking down on the nationwide protests, President Díaz-Canel has called on “revolutionaries” in Cuba to take to the streets and fight back in the name of communism. But he and the rest of the regime know very well that the only revolutionaries in Cuba are the ones waving the American flag, protesting against the Castro regime’s authoritarian rule. This terrifies them.
The people of Cuba want their God-given rights as human beings respected and honored by their government. They know that the communist dictatorship that they and their forebears have had to suffer under has spoiled their lives and robbed them of any chance of prosperity, just as every communist dictatorship in history has done. They are “not afraid” to fight to ensure their children have a better future, because such an aspiration is an impossibility if the current regime does not change or reform. Such courage in the name of freedom should be an inspiration to all Americans – especially to America’s leaders – and should motivate us to do what we can to ensure the failed Castro regime finally comes to an end. Shouting “freedom” isn’t anti-government as the New York Times would have you believe – it is anti-Cuban communism. Freedom is the basic right which all people should enjoy. We should stand with the people of Cuba!
Mike Pompeo is the former Secretary of State and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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