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Have the Cuban People Reached Their Breaking Point?

People react during protests in Havana, Cuba, July 11, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

On the menu today: The people of Cuba take to the streets in revolt; a New Yorker vandalizes the gallery that will sell Hunter Biden’s paintings; and Richard Branson technically travels to space — with a bit of irritating talk about how he’s doing it all to help protect the environment.

A Key Step on the Road to a Free Cuba?

The protests and clashes that exploded across Cuba yesterday probably do not yet mark the end of that country’s authoritarian, Communist regime. But that regime no longer has quite such an uncontested grip over the country — and an authoritarian regime’s ability to hold onto power is often dependent upon a monopoly of force and the ability to deliver goods and services that people can’t get anywhere else. Cubans always had to deal with rampant corruption, the U.S. embargo, and the fact that the country’s most driven and independent citizens keep risking their lives by jumping into rafts and attempting to cross 90 miles of ocean full of sharks. Now throw in COVID-19 and the long lapse in the tourism industry, and the immiseration of the Cuban people has reached an intolerable point.

The New York Times summarizes today that, “in a country known for repressive crackdowns on dissent, the rallies were widely viewed as astonishing. Activists and analysts called it the first time that so many people had openly protested against the Communist government since the so-called Maleconazo uprising, which exploded in the summer of 1994 into a huge wave of Cubans leaving the country by sea.”

The Associated Press reported from Havana:

Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.

About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.

AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.

“The people came out to express themselves freely, and they are repressing and beating them,” Rev. Jorge Luis Gil, a Roman Catholic priest, said while standing at a street corner in Centro Habana.

About 300 people close to the government then arrived with a large Cuban flag shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some people from the group assaulted an AP videojournalist, disabling his camera, while an AP photojournalist was injured by the police.

Deutsche Welle stated that, “President and head of the Communist Party Miguel Diaz-Canel attended one of the protests in San Antonio de Los Banos, which is located west of Havana. Social media footage showed protesters shouting insults at the president.”

Protests that seem to explode out of nowhere usually have a long fuse. Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote in the Wall Street Journal on December 20, 2020, about the dissident-artist San Isidro Movement:

As the San Isidro Movement gains street cred in the barrio, support from other dissident groups, and recognition abroad, the question on the minds of long-suffering Cubans is whether this time things are different. There are good reasons to remain cautiously pessimistic about the odds of political change. But it’s also true that Cuban civil society seems to be undergoing a revival, and that makes the landscape markedly different than it was even 10 years ago.

And Agence France-Presse, among others, spotlighted a particularly popular and controversial protest anthem on February 25 of this year:

In Cuba, where music and revolution are intertwined, a song by rappers boldly denouncing the communist government has found viral appeal online — but angered a regime that keeps close tabs on culture.

Entitled “Patria y Vida” (Fatherland and Life) — a positive spin on the slogan “Patria o Muerte” (Fatherland or Death) coined by Fidel Castro in 1960 — the song has racked up more than two million views since its release on YouTube on February 16.

It boasts nearly 130,000 likes — but also 4,400 dislikes.

The track does not pull any punches.

Singers sporting gold chains, hoodies and backwards baseball caps rattle off a long list of grievances about poverty, repression and misrule before declaring: “It is over” and “We are not afraid.”

It didn’t generate a ton of attention, but Raul Castro stepped down as the head of the Cuban regime in April. Whether or not you buy into the “great man theory” of history, leaders are not interchangeable. Ayman al-Zawahiri cannot inspire followers the way Osama bin Laden could. Our Jay Nordlinger observed at the time of Castro’s retirement that odious, repressive regimes often outlast their most charismatic leaders — but not always.

Back at the end of June, Human Rights Watch detailed that, “Cuban authorities have jailed and prosecuted several artists and journalists who are critical of the government. Police and intelligence officers have routinely appeared at the homes of other artists and journalists, ordering them to stay there, often for days and even weeks. The authorities have also imposed temporary targeted restrictions on people’s ability to access cellphone data.”

After a while, the oppressed citizens of an authoritarian state just don’t have that much more to lose.

Hunter’s Gallery

It’s much tougher to argue that American society is a meritocracy when you hear that Hunter Biden will be selling his crappy paintings for a half-million dollars a pop.

Some may find some satisfaction in the news that the gallery hosting Biden’s paintings was vandalized. They will find less satisfaction that the perpetrator did so because he wanted to protest the “war crimes” of President Biden.

War crimes? Come on. This is Joe Biden we’re talking about. The only things that Joe Biden viciously attacks are previously approved pipeline projects, half-completed border fences, the truth, and ice-cream cones.

However, those of us who find New York’s recent bail and detention reforms rather ridiculous may indulge in a grim chuckle over the fact that the perpetrator was charged with assault, criminal mischief, attempted assault, making graffiti, and possession of graffiti instruments . . . and then released without bail.

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth, in the Name of Saving the Earth

Two cheers for Richard Branson. The one aspect of his trip to space I could have done without is his comments suggesting that concern for the environment is what makes private-sector space travel worthwhile. “Space is extraordinary; the universe is magnificent. I want people to be able to look back at our beautiful Earth and come home and work very hard to try to do magic to it to look after it.”

I can remember when space exploration was seen as something good and exciting and worthwhile in and of itself; it didn’t need to be wrapped up in the green agenda. Considering the amount of energy that Branson’s spaceflight uses and that space tourism will use in the near future, his comments sound a bit like “greenwashing” — marketing spin to keep the climate-change activists off of his back.

What does he think his rocket plane and mothership run on, unicorn droppings? In an hour and a half, Branson’s trip generates roughly the same carbon footprint as a 13-hour jumbo-jet flight from London to Singapore.

Branson’s not nearly as insufferable as, say, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, who insists he is a proud socialist, despite his $1.2 billion net worth. But Branson is another billionaire who supports environmentalist causes and insists that his gargantuan carbon emissions are different, because they’re meant to help the planet, not harm it. His development of a 54-mile-high thrill ride for billionaires is good for the planet, while your SUV going to the supermarket is bad for the planet. Never mind that on average, the carbon footprint of his 90-minute flight yesterday was many times larger than your carbon footprint for the year.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it Friday, the odds of a child surviving a COVID-19 infection are 99.995 percent, and President Biden made the spectacularly implausible claim that the Afghan Army can handle the Taliban from here.

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