On Sunday, shouts of “libertad!” — “freedom!” — were heard in dozens of cities and towns all over Cuba as people took to the streets to protest the communist government that has had a stranglehold on the country for 62 years.
This socialist regime has tortured, killed, silenced, denied freedom to, and driven into exile generations of Cubans, forcing many, including my family, to flee or be murdered. It has cut off Cuba from the world and destroyed its economy, so that today Cubans stand in long lines for food, medicine, and basic supplies. They endure energy blackouts, and government officials can shut off their censored Internet service on a whim — as they did on Sunday when the regime panicked about the protests.
This battle is personal to me. When Fulgencio Batista staged a coup in Cuba and became a brutal dictator in the 1950s, my father fought against his regime. He was imprisoned and tortured. His captors broke his nose and bashed in his front teeth until they were dangling from his mouth. My father decided to flee Cuba and, in 1957, came to the United States with $100 sewn into his underwear. He attended the University of Texas on a student visa and got a job washing dishes for 50 cents an hour.
In the summer of 1959, soon after Castro had taken over Cuba, my father returned to visit his family and was horrified by what he saw. It quickly became evident that Castro was even worse than Batista had been. My dad’s sister, my Tia Sonia, became part of the counterrevolutionary struggle and fought against Castro. Sadly, she too faced prison and torture before coming to the United States.
Growing up, I listened to stories about my father’s and my Tia Sonia’s fight for freedom in Cuba. The freedom of America was the dream that allowed them to endure the brutality of Cuba. It was and is a beacon of hope for all those who, like them, have endured oppression — and that is why we saw so many protesters in Cuba flying American flags on Sunday.
America must respond. Over the past few days, the world has seen that the American people stand squarely with the men and women of Cuba and their noble fight for liberty.
Worryingly, however, the Biden administration has stopped short of strong support for those marching in the streets of Cuba. In statement after statement, as protesters swept into the streets, administration officials have failed to unequivocally support the protesters and failed to condemn the regime.
After being shamed into taking stronger and stronger positions, President Biden finally put out a statement saying that the protesters were exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Even that is wrong. What the protests have revealed is a communist dictatorship trying to brutally silence the speech of Cuban citizens.
Further, the Biden administration claims that the protests are about access to COVID-19 vaccines. But that ignores the heart of the matter: The protesters are yelling “libertad” in the streets. They are loudly protesting the communist dictatorship that has held Cuba back, and they’re waving American flags. And yet, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can’t seem to figure out why the freedom we have in America is important and why these protesters in Cuba are standing up and risking their lives for it.
Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine why this administration is reticent to support the crowds waving American flags protesting the Cuban regime. The Obama administration spent enormous time, resources, and diplomatic capital blaming American foreign policy for the plight of Cubans and working to dismantle international pressure on the Cuban regime. The Democrat Party remains indebted to, and committed to, that approach.
The brave protesters risking everything for freedom are a living and undeniable rebuke to that entire worldview.
The dictatorial president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel, said this weekend that “we are willing to do anything, and we will be in the streets fighting.” No doubt, over the coming days, I fully expect the communist government in Cuba to widen its violence to suppress the brave protesters in the streets.
America must be clear: We support the protesters against the crackdown, and anyone who participates in suppressing the Cuban people will be held accountable by us — and by them.