Cuba: To free or not to free, that is the question

As thousands of Cubans rose up on July 11 in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the island nation, protesting against their communist government tormenters, carrying placards denouncing food shortages, demanding freedom, and proclaiming that they no longer fear their oppressors, the U.S. State Department's top official overseeing Cuba issued this inane statement:

Peaceful protests are growing in Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.

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No, the Cuban people do not enjoy any "right to peaceful assembly" and what the Cuban people were "expressing concern" about is living under a cruel, corrupt communist regime that is as incompetent as it is brutal. Yeah, they also do not like COVID.

Responding to mounting pressure, President Biden then belatedly issued this statement:

We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.

While President Biden's words — condemning the "decades of repression" and "suffering" to which these protesters had been "subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime" — were better than his State Department's, his judgment was just as absurd: "The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs."

Huh? We have been doing this for the past 62 years! Problem is, they don't listen. Does Joe Biden really expect a totalitarian regime to voluntarily relinquish its power to the people everyone knows it would rather repress?

And just like his State Department, he wrongly indicated that the most important reason for the uprising is that Cubans are demanding "relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic."

A Cuban exile living in Spain sees the situation more accurately: "It is not that Cuba has exploded because the pandemic is rampant," she said. "Our pandemic is Castroism. The only vaccine is military intervention by the United States or anyone else."

That is not going to happen — not the way she and most other people think. But the United States does need to make this choice: seize this opportunity to liberate the Cuban people from communist domination or once again abandon them and doom them to still more misery. To free or not to free — that is the question.

We can liberate Cuba without invading it. Some actions are obvious and easy:

* Counter the regime's shutting down the internet in an attempt to keep Cubans from communicating with one another and prevent the outside world from seeing and hearing the Cuban people denouncing their oppressors. We have the capability to circumvent their shutdown.

* Boost radio communications to Cuba to encourage its people to keep up the resistance.

* Step up diplomatic pressures, such as intensifying our raising of the regime's human rights violations.

* Make sure Cuba remains a designated state sponsor of terrorism.

* No lifting of sanctions.

Such measures could be effective for a slow-motion liberation of Cuba if we — and, more important, the Cuban people, accept that a who-knows-how-long continuation of their pain and suffering is unavoidable.

But only lack of resolve would make indefinitely prolonging the misery of the Cuban people unavoidable. We could — and should — also take bolder steps. Such as:

* It is within our power to take control of the air space over Cuba. We should do so now to facilitate humanitarian operations and demonstrate American resolve as we serve notice on the regime that they dare not gun down their own citizens.

* Recognize that many Cubans are starving and get food to them, even if we have to parachute it and use armed drones to keep regime thugs from stealing food.

* Conduct cyber-attacks and other measures to constantly harass and disrupt functions of the communist regime, including command and control operations of its military and police.

* Quietly slip small groups of U.S. special forces into different areas of Cuba to link up with Cuban resistance members to help organize and arm and train them so they can conduct vigorous guerrilla warfare against their government, just as Fidel Castro did decades ago.

On July 11, the world witnessed a wave of unprecedented mass demonstrations throughout Cuba. It wasn't about COVID, no matter who might say so or wish it were — and it was a new beginning, not an ending.

Those thousands upon thousands of Cubans all over their beautiful island homeland were demonstrating against communist tyranny and pleading for food and freedom. The United States has the capability to grant them both wishes. If we truly resolve to.

Zachary D. Warner is a third-year political science major at the University of Wisconsin.

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