TL;DR (3-minute read)
- Cuba is undergoing several massive protests calling for major change due to government tyranny and the economic failure due to COVID-19.
- Discontent with the government goes all the way back to the 1950s, with the installation of the Castro regime. America, as a response to various human rights violations by the communist regime, installs an embargo that continues to this day.
- America cannot ignore the current protests, and it is important for us to act. However, we cannot use military intervention as it will be disastrous for both sides.
- Our best option is to lift the embargo to encourage economic and political liberalization.
For the past few weeks, videos of mass protests in Cuba have caught international attention via social media. The current COVID crisis along with the government failure/corruption has resulted in many people, both Cubans and abroad, going out on the streets and calling for change. It is known the protests may potentially affect American geopolitical and domestic politics/interests, so the question many are asking is should we react, and if so how?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to examine the roots of the current unrest. These roots can be traced back to the late 1950s when Fidel Castro took over Cuba and installed a communist government that is still in place to this day. A regime known for its human rights violations, widespread poverty, and famines, attracted criticism both in Cuba and abroad.
The Americans, in the middle of a cold war against communism and the USSR, were eager to get rid of Cuba, a communist country and USSR-ally in close proximity to major American population centers, but found their options limited as a major American war with Cuba would lead to war with the USSR, which the Americans could not do. One option they put into place was embargoes against Cuba as a response to Cuba’s human rights violations. These embargoes continue to this day
As Cuba was ostracized from the western world, they were very reliant on the USSR for aid and support. As expected, Cuba was ravaged by the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The near-collapse of the Cuban economy coupled with decades of oppression and anti-government resulted in one of the worst periods of unrest in the country’s history in 1994. The riots resulted in Castro allowing for Cuban refugees to escape to America; consequently, hundreds of thousands of Cubans sought refuge in Florida.
After the death of Fidel Castro in 2017, Cuba underwent several liberalization efforts, including a new constitution that allowed for private property. Despite the fact that the dictator was dead and the communist regime was gone, citizens still had to deal with another oppressive government, embargoes, and poor living conditions. The embargoes and government regulations have made it so that Cuba has to rely on the tourist industry for their economy, and due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the tourist industry was halted. This, along with a stagnant economy and anger at the Cuban government, resulted in the Cuban people finally deciding to take matters into their own hands and start protesting. The current protests have spread as far as the United States, with many Cuban Americans advocating for Cuban freedom/liberalization.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
What America should do and why
While the fate of Cuba remains uncertain, one thing is certain: America should not just stand by and watch. Given America’s role on the world stage as a superpower, the widespread call for change within Cuba and abroad, Cuba’s proximity to America, and our history with the nation, it would be a failure on America’s part to not act at all. The true question is not “should we help Cuba?” but rather “how should we help Cuba?” Many Americans argue that since the USSR is gone, military intervention is now a possibility and while it is possible, it is the worst option and should only be used as a last resort. It did not work last time in 1959 during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and it will not work today. A war with Cuba will only result in a bitter relationship with America along with unneeded bloodshed and carnage.
Our best option would be to lift American embargoes against Cuba, while also encouraging government liberalization. The removal of the embargoes will open Cuba to many new industries, and as a result will decrease Cuba’s dependence on the tourism industry. The American government can also use the embargo to encourage liberalization efforts. For example, if Cuba allows for free and fair elections, the American government could offer lift up all/most trade restrictions in exchange for free and fair . The removal of the embargoes is also approved by nearly three-quarters of all Americans, along with a majority of Democrats and Republicans, which would make a proposal to remove the embargo very popular given its bipartisan support.
There has been no better time to act on this issue than now. One of the worst things to do in this situation would be to ignore it completely. The Cuban people are calling for freedom, and it is up to the Americans to give it to them.