The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.
On July 11, an unprecedented and overwhelming cry for freedom was heard across nearly every province in Cuba. Protesting the repressive communist dictatorship that has stifled free speech and enterprise for 62 years, people flooded the streets demanding liberty and an end to the regime. While anti-government protests have previously occurred in Cuba, they have never reached this magnitude.
As a group of Cuban American students, most of whom were born on the island, we felt compelled to shed light on the ongoing crisis. Although we hold different ideological and political beliefs, we all agree on one thing: Cuba is in desperate need of liberty. We hope this article will serve as a call to action for the Princeton community to join the Cuban people in their pursuit of this essential human right.
The Cuban government’s reaction to the events of July 11 was a forceful demonstration of violence and repression against the public. Videos have surfaced of Cuban special armed forces beating men, women, and children, shooting at unarmed protestors, and forcibly removing teenage boys from their homes and enlisting them in militias to fight the people.
Internet service was halted and telephone communications were disrupted to prevent videos of the events from being disseminated. Still, the Cuban people continued to protest, and the international community joined in solidarity. Peaceful protests erupted all across the United States and Europe. Cuban American exiles have marched in large numbers to the White House and United Nations Headquarters in New York calling for intervention.
Despite the human rights violations taking place on the island, media outlets and influential organizations, including Black Lives Matter, wrongly portrayed the protests to be a result of the U.S. embargo, or the COVID-19 pandemic’s strain on the island’s limited healthcare resources. While these are all important issues that should be addressed, focusing on them at a time when Cubans on the island are explicitly calling for governmental change denies the sacrifices of those who are putting their lives at risk every day for the right to simply speak their minds.
Life in Cuba is very different from what you read online, or even from what you see if you visit as a tourist. In a nation that claims it has no class distinctions, rich tourists and party sympathizers benefit while the working class suffers.
Although the American embargo on Cuba restricts trade with the nation and does have negative effects on its economy, it does not impose any limitations on the importation of food and medical supplies in Cuba. In fact, Cubans import approximately $150 million worth of agricultural products from the United States annually.
Meanwhile, the Cuban government imposes its own restrictions on the availability of food and supplies for its people. It reserves its best hotels, food, and commodities for tourists while Cuban families are given monthly food rations that are barely enough to survive for a week. With the government-imposed average salary at about 900 Cuban Pesos (37 USD) a month, most Cubans cannot afford much else. For those who can, options are extremely limited. Grocery stores are mostly empty, and the few that do have items often sell them in foreign currencies Cubans do not possess. Furthermore, farmers are forced to turn over most of their produce to the government or face penalties. Whatever government officials do not have time to collect is left to rot. These policies, put in place by the Cuban regime, are responsible for depriving the people of basic access to food and essential items.
Since its foundation in 2018, the San Isidro Movement, formed through the union of freelance artists, journalists, and painters, sparked a new era by outwardly criticizing the regime and showing the citizenry that they are not alone in their desire for freedom. The movement was developed in response to Decree 349 which largely worked to limit artists’ freedom of expression.
Inspired by the movement, a group of Cuban singers collaborated in creating the song “Patria Y Vida” (homeland and life), which has turned into an anthem for Cubans on the island and in exile. The title contradicts the Cuban government’s slogan “Patria o Muerte'' (homeland or death) by suggesting it is patriotic to fight for a better life outside of the current system. The artists denounce the corrupt government and the lack of fundamental rights in the country through their lyrics.
However, the Cuban government is meticulous about what information is made public, and it brutally punishes any dissidence on the island. After the release of “Patria Y Vida,” one of the San Isidro Movement leaders, Luis Manuel Alcántara, was detained on his way to join the July 11 protests at Havana’s Malecón boardwalk and transferred to Guanajay maximum security prison. He is facing charges of contempt, resistance, and assault. Like him, hundreds of other protesters have been unjustly imprisoned on the island.
A slogan that has embodied the movement is “teníamos tanta hambre que nos comimos el miedo” which translates to “we were so hungry that we ate our fear [of the government].” Yes, Cubans need resources, but more importantly, they need a governmental system that allows them to express themselves without fear of ostracization, imprisonment, or even death. The situation in Cuba is not an issue of Democrats against Republicans, and it cannot be solved with shipments of food or vaccines. Rather, it is the story of how an oppressed nation finally gathered the courage to say, “enough!”
As Princetonians, we pride ourselves in the motto: “In the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” From the events here at home, to those in Nigeria, Palestine, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and now, Afghanistan, this last year has exposed injustice and human rights abuses across the globe. While distressing and disheartening to see these unfold, the world — and many in the Princeton community — have met these challenges with rallying cries for solidarity, justice, and better governance worldwide. The Cuban people are in need of that same support.
We ask that you do not allow political biases or preconceived notions of Cuba to hinder your ability to advocate for those who are suffering. As Cuban American members of this scholarly community, we also want to emphasize the need for greater awareness and sensitivity to the atrocities committed by the Cuban regime when discussing the island’s history both in and out of the classroom. Together, we can live up to our motto by amplifying the voices of the Cuban people in their fight for freedom.
Ana Blanco is a junior from Miami, FL. She can reached at email@example.com.
Gisell Curbelo is a junior from Miami, FL. She can be reached at Gcurbelo@princeton.edu.
Alejandro Garcia is a senior from Miami, FL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosmeilyn Jerez is a junior from Miami, FL. She can be reached at email@example.com.