By Frank Calzon*
HAVANA TIMES – If the people who mis-govern Cuba from the Plaza de la Revolucion were to sum up the year 2021, they might well use the phrase of Queen Elizabeth when she branded 1992 as annus horribilis because of a fire that destroyed much of Windsor Castle, its historical documents, tapestries, and valuable pieces of art.
It is impossible to analyze what happened in Cuba in 2021 without taking into account the following:
1. “The dog that did not bark.” Despite many predictions, Joe Biden did not ease the sanctions imposed on the Castroite regime by the previous administration. On the contrary, he branded Cuba’s rulers as “oppressors” because they pocket the remittances that Cuban Americans send to relatives on the island. The US president also announced he’s looking for ways to make sure the money reaches Cubans directly.
2. Tens of thousands of Cubans – men and women, whites and blacks, young and old – protested peacefully on July 11 on streets throughout the island. The streets are no longer only “just for revolutionaries,” in the shameful phrase of the late Fidel Castro. As the song Patria y Vida says, “Who told you that Cuba belongs to you? My Cuba belongs to everyone.”
3. As a result of the increased repression, many international organizations and democratic governments called on Havana to free all political prisoners. They include teenagers sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for daring to peacefully defend rights that appear in Cuba’s “socialist constitution.”
4. In the European Parliament, a resolution approved with an unprecedented 426 votes in favor and 146 against urging Cuba to “free all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and people arbitrarily detained.” The resolution also calls on Europe to suspend all financial agreements with Cuba because it is not complying with a human rights clause that is an integral part of a cooperation agreement between the island and the European Union.
5. After 60 years in the catacombs, priests, nuns, and bishops came out publicly to defend the people. The bishops proposed an urgent national dialogue to seek solutions to the country’s moral, economic, and social crisis. And more than two dozen priests issued a widely distributed video urging police and soldiers to “not raise your hand against another Cuban.” That was in reply to the infamous order by President Diaz-Canel to his followers on July 11th to take to the streets and attack the peaceful protesters.
6. Cuba stopped being a point of reference for international baseball. The island’s teams no longer qualify for international competitions and many of its athletes escape whenever they go abroad. The government condemns them with the worst epithets and bars them from returning to visit their families for seven years. The contrast could not be clearer. Baseball stars like Camilo Pascual, Orestes Miñoso and Conrado Marrero made history in the major leagues. More recently, others like Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, José “Pito” Abreu and Yuliesky Gourriel and Jorge Soler were also stars. Baseball is again a symbol of the fight for freedom, as it was in Cuba under Spanish colonial rule, when Madrid’s supporters went to the bullfights while independence supporters preferred la pelota, the Cubanized name of the Yanqui sport.
7. In the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, the regime bragged that Cuba was “a safe destination” for tourists. “Bathed by the sun’s rays throughout the year, we have greater strength against Covid,” it added. It also projected itself as a great medical power and developed five vaccines against Covid. But as months passed the deaths spiked, and some corpses remained on sidewalks because of a shortage of ambulances. The government blamed the shortage on the US embargo, but then imported loads of new vehicles for the police.
8. The number of Cuban Americans in the US Congress has never been higher. Three senators from states important to presidential elections – Florida, Texas and New Jersey – wield considerable influence. And there are 11 Cuban Americans in the House of Representatives, the majority from districts outside Florida. They make up a bipartisan block that cannot be ignored, given the narrow margin between Democrats and Republicans.
9. Intellectuals, artists, religious leaders, former diplomats from around the world and leaders of free Cubans have asked the UN Security Council to establish a humanitarian bridge to help the Cuban victims, outside government controls. They also called for an embargo on arms sales to Cuba, at a time when thousands of Cuban soldiers are repressing the Venezuelan people and recommended the Cuban regime face charges before the International Court of Justice.
10. In the arts world, internationally known artists have refused to participate in the Havana Biennial because of the government repression against their Cuban colleagues.
11. During the year, Cubans continue to escape in rafts and unseaworthy vessels. Some die in the Florida Straits, most are captured by the US Coast Guard and returned to the island. Thousands reach the Mexican border among the wave of refugees seeking entry into the United States.
12. And finally, two of the top Latin Grammy awards went to the Cuban opposition anthem Patria y Vida. Receiving the awards in Las Vegas were artists Yotuel, the Gente de Zona duo, Descemer Bueno and El Funky, as well as the song’s composer and Yotuel’s wife, Beatriz Luengo. Unable to attend were performance artists Luis Manuel Otero and rapper Maikel Osorbo, who participated in the video of the award-winning song. They are both jailed in Cuba.
*Frank Calzón is a Cuban human rights activist and political scientist.