The former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky had a deep understanding of government repression. He spent nine years as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union because of his outspoken opposition to the communist regime.
In his book, “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,” Sharansky writes that there are two categories of societies — free and fear, with nothing in between. “I believe there are only two kinds of societies, because a society that does not protect dissent will inevitably be based on fear. Indeed, the mechanics of tyranny make this inescapable.”
The communist nation of Cuba, located less than 100 miles from Key West, is an example of a fear society, and, last Sunday, thousands of Cubans turned out to challenge that fear and push for greater freedom.
In the safety and comfort of our free society here in the United States, it is difficult to imagine the courage it takes for Cubans to openly challenge the government. Here, we might take for granted that our speech and our peaceful demonstrations are protected from the government by our country’s bedrock principles.
In Cuba, dissent is not tolerated, speech is not protected, freedom is restricted and people who speak out against the government risk imprisonment or worse.
Abraham Jimenez Enoa wrote in The Washington Post, “The protests happened spontaneously, something this inept government can’t hide. Cubans have moved on from complaining in whispers inside their own houses and nodding in disapproval in the streets to taking real action.”
In the largely state-controlled economy, the people live in poverty, food and medicine are in short supply and power outages are the norm. The conditions have worsened because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has dramatically reduced tourism in the Caribbean Island nation.
The Cuban government, and some pundits in this country, blame the long-standing U.S. embargo for much of the country’s desperate conditions. Clearly, the restrictions greatly limit Cuba’s ability to grow an economy and meet the most basic needs of the people.
However, it also is true that a centrally planned economy run by corrupt leaders has kept the Cuban people mired in poverty while the ruling elites skim their take off the top and live a gilded existence. Forbes magazine estimated that, when Fidel Castro, the leader of the supposed egalitarian revolution, passed away in 2016, he was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
To his credit, President Joe Biden has spoken out in support of the Cuban demonstrators. He called their protests “remarkable” and “a clarion call for freedom.” It is unclear what, if anything, the Biden administration is willing to do beyond words of encouragement.
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., whose mother, Lala, was imprisoned in Castro’s Cuba for seven weeks and later escaped to the United States, believes the United States should do more.
One suggestion is for the United States to provide military-protected humanitarian aid to the Cuban people and perhaps even create a “safe zone” on the island for people. Invoking the use of the military would raise the stakes substantially. It also conjures up the memory of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion attempt of 1961.
The United States has a special relationship with the Cuban people. It is estimated that 1.5 million Cubans live here, and more are trying to get here every day. They have what Sharansky termed “a universal desire among all peoples ... not to live in fear.”
When given a choice, people will always choose a free society. It is evident from the protests that is what the Cuban people want, and what the leaders of that country want to prevent.