Do not misunderstand recent island-wide protests in Cuba. They are not about COVID-19, although the public handling of the pandemic is one of the many crimes the government has committed against the Cuban people.
They are not about the lack of food on an island that used to be among the most productive agricultural lands in the world. They are not about the U.S. embargo, which does not restrict the sale of food and medicine. (Remittances from the United States are among the biggest sources of income for the nation.)
They are not about the crumbling infrastructure or the nightmarish condition of public sanitation. Nor are they simply about freedom of expression, although any dissent is brutally suppressed. Understand that the protests are a response to all these crimes, each of them directly attributable to a military dictatorship that treats Cuba as a giant plantation for its own enrichment and regards the Cuban people as chattel. After 60 years, the citizens of Cuba have been bled so dry they are not afraid to be further wounded. After being frightened for so long, fear is now familiar. After being silenced for so long, their cries can no longer be contained.
It is not up to us to free Cuba. This is the moment of the Cuban people freeing themselves. But they need the world’s governments to acknowledge the illegitimacy of a government that governs without the consent or concern of the people, and to treat it as such. And they need the world’s media to vigilantly report the many ways in which Cubans are being abused by the military cabal. From us, they need our witness and our voices. We need to acknowledge that the Cuban people are imprisoned by a dictatorial regime. We need to stop supporting their oppressors and buying the lies with which they blanket their crimes. We need to affirm their right to self-determination, a cause to which my Cuban family has been famously committed for more than 150 years. We need to all shout “Patria y vida!” alongside them as they fight for their homeland and their lives.
Kevin O’Brien, a Cuban-American, is the great-great-grandson of Emilio Bacardi Moreau and the executive director of the Bacardi Family Foundation.