Letter asking our elected officials for solidarity with Cubans in Cuba

Letter asking our elected officials for solidarity with Cubans in Cuba

Reemberto Rodriguez (July 20, 2021)

Dear {elected official}

Please consider making a statement about Cuba. Soon. Time is of essence.

The Cuban people in Cuba are crying out, demonstrating, and protesting for the most basic of rights: The right to peacefully gather and express their grievances without repercussion. Ultimately, it is truly that simple.

I know similar incidents are happening in many places throughout the world. Yet Cuba is by far the closest country to the U.S. where unrest have erupted recently. Cuba also has a uniquely complex historical and current ties with the U.S. We can not simply look away. Cuba’s problems are very much ‘in your face’ in the U.S.’s political and popular culture.

Today what is going on in Cuba is really not that complicated. The vast majority of the Cuban people struggle with finding the basic staples of life – food, medicine, electricity, water – and rudimentary rights are highly restricted.

On July 11, 2021 the Cuban people literally risked their lives by publicly protesting. Some of these protests continue, even in light of the repression to suppress them. They are not protesting at the American embassy in Havana asking the embargo be lifted – as important as that is. They are not protesting at the health ministry demanding a better response to Covid – as important as that is. And they are most certainly not protesting for an American intervention – no serious person inside or outside Cuba advocates for that.

The Cuban people in the island are protesting in the streets because the inability of their government to govern. The dysfunction of the Cuban government has reached levels not seen since the “special period” of the early 90s. While there may be complex reasons for this dysfunction, the fact remains: It is the government that is failing the people, not the people failing the government.

This is a grassroots revolt. The vast majority of protesters are from impoverished neighborhoods, not from the affluent areas. This is an organic response to an increasingly intolerable situation.

In the eyes and aspirations of the protesters in Cuba, what is going on has nothing to do with the politics in Florida. This has to do with the lives of the people in Cuba. This is the fight of the people in Cuba for their future. Authentic liberation will come only if it comes from within.

The Cuban government has demonstrated no capacity to handle the protests in a constructive, positive, engaging manner. Instead, they have responded with brute force – short of shooting people – and top-down measures to squelch any and all peaceful protest. The government has mobilized the worst of their police apparatus, squelched gatherings, injured many, incarcerated thousands – hundreds of which remain imprisoned.

At a loss for how to respond beyond terrorizing their own people, the Cuban government even orchestrated their own rally, enticing their ‘supporters’ to come chant pro-revolutionary slogans, generating a ‘made for tv’ propaganda moment. They have also indicated some limited willingness to respond to token minor elements of the protests and walked back some of the most inflammatory comments they made as a knee jerk response to the protests. However, people remain detained, leading to an international outcry including outcry from the United Nations – which rarely rebukes the Cuban government.

What can the U.S. Do? Continuing to keep the story alive is the simplest way to ‘do something’. We need to show solidarity and accompaniment with the Cuban people. The message needs to be clear: “To the people in Cuba, we are in solidarity with you; and we stand ready to help in a way that you deem best.”

The Cuban government must know that the international community knows that terrorizing your own citizens and instigating a lopsided civil war is definitely not the measures that will lead to a constructive way forward. It may be that the Cuban government is ready for dialogue now more than ever. It may be that China and Russia no longer see a return on investment in their support for Cuba. It may be that the Cuban government has outplayed its cards. It may be Cuba is increasingly irrelevant in the international revolutionary marketplace of ideas. Cuba is broke; and it may be Cuba is increasingly alone. The Cuban Revolution may be increasingly a legend in its own mind only. China and Russia have other interests. Venezuela is a mess. Latin America is a very different place today than in the recent past. The Cuban people in the island know this. The grassroots sense that “things are different now.”

This is a once in a generation opportunity for something to happen in Cuba that is truly transformative. The home-grown sentiment for change in Cuba is strong and evident throughout the island. This sentiment is evident throughout many sectors of the Cuban society: i.e., artists, academicians, the creative class, entrepreneurs, poor communities, and faith communities. This is a sentiment expressed not by people that want to leave their homeland, it is a sentiment by people who want to make their homeland work.

This zeal of the Cuban people to change from within must be matched by the solidarity of the international community. The Cuban people seeking change from within yearn to know that the world is with them. Please let’s not let nostalgia, biased mythology, political self-interest, and tired talking points about Cuba get in the way of imagining a better future with and for the people in Cuba today.

There is a growing consensus of people “in the middle” regarding practical and pragmatic steps the U.S. government can do to show solidarity and accompaniment with the people in Cuba. Here are 15 immediate steps that could be taken; and another four that are more complicated and may require more conversation, consultation, and dialogue.

FIFTEEN IMMEDIATE STEPS TO TAKE (most of which have a clear ‘go’ consensus)

[1] Intensify fiercely amplifying the plight of the protesters in Cuba as they bravely seek to express their grievances in public. (Lest this becomes ‘yesterday’s news’ all too quickly.)

[2] Offer the Cuban government syringes and related medical supply to expedite their distribution of their Covid-19 vaccines. (If they say ‘no’, it’ll be on them.)

[3] Expand the numbers of Senators and Representatives that have signed on to the bipartisan resolution supporting pro-democracy voices in Cuba. (The more the better.)

[4] Facilitate the technology to make unimpeded internet access readily available in Cuba. (The technology exists; let’s deploy it.)

[5] Remove restrictions that limit remittances from individuals in the U.S. to people in Cuba. (Understanding that some of the transactional costs will go to the government; and remittances help mostly those in Cuba with relatives willing to send money in the U.S.)

[6] Be ready to encourage travelers from U.S. to Cuba to take medicine and other key staples. (After the Covid travel restrictions are lifted, of course.)

[7] Reach out to the different social sectors in Cuba to listen to their specific stories and aspirations. (Prioritize artists, entrepreneurs, and civic influencers.)

[8] Join the Catholic Church in Cuba and the diaspora in promoting – in the Bishops’ own words – “robust cultural and commercial engagement between the United States and Cuba as the means to assist the island in achieving greater prosperity and social transformation”.  (In collaboration with other faith communities, including most major Protestant denominations and Jewish communities.)

[9] Accelerate sports, culture, artistic, and academic interchanges. (This is simply a tried-and-true way of strengthening ties regardless of political situations.)

[10] Coordinate all approaches with international partners. (A coalition will accomplish much more that a solo effort.)

[11] Staff up the Cuban embassy in Havana to serve the Cuban people directly. (And encourage other countries to increase their capacity as well.)

[12] Continue clearly conveying to the Cuban people that this is not the time to emigrate illegally by sea. (Nor through Mexico.)

[13] Formally establish clear communications with the Cuban diaspora. (Under consultation with the likes of Casa Blanca Cubans and the Cuban Study Group, already connected to the White House Office of Community Engagement.)

[14] Work with Amnesty International and Cuban activists to keep public the list of detainees and imprisoned Cubans. (And of course, push for their release.)

[15] Get President Biden to go to Florida to deliver a concise, strong, and firm statement in support, solidarity, and accompaniment of the people in Cuba. (And in empathy and understanding of the exiled Cuban community in the U.S.)

FOUR DIRECTIONS TO CONSIDER (some highly controversial, which may take more time to develop, discern, and activate)

[1] Join in a Congressional conversation to explore fresh consideration of alternatives to the embargo. (It will be highly advantageous to remove the embargo as a propaganda weapon for the Cuban government.)

[2] Begin process to remove Cuba from the list of ‘State Sponsored Terrorism’. (As hideous as the Cuban government actions are, they do not belong in the same list as Iran, North Korea, and Syria.)

[3] Re-imagine the U.S. Guantanamo base for the 21st Century in a way that could serve a greater good in a broader, pan-Americas peaceful world. (Certainly an aspirational journey, may not be realistic at this time.)

[4] Indicate to the Cuban government that the U.S. is ready to engage in deep diplomacy. (No pre-condition, with mutual respect.)

The sheer number of possible actions indicate that options abound. Some are more controversial than others. In some there is clear consensus; others are politically volatile. And of course, political realities – particularly regarding Florida – may dictate how/if to move on some and let others wait. Messaging will be key. It is likely that if messaged correctly, we’ll find that most Cuban Americans – and the general American public from different political persuasion – actually agree with a lot of these possibilities. All merit consideration and discourse.

Most critical is to consistently – and loudly – continue being there for/with the people in Cuba – and encourage President Biden to publicly act – and go to South Florida. Please don’t let this be a blip in a news cycle, or for it to become a protracted, long, endless diplomatic process. The people in Cuba deserve better.

Staying connected,

Reemberto Rodriguez