Cuba 2021: a Tragic Year and an Uncertain Future

Photo by Juan Suarez

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Queen Elizabeth when she branded 1992 as annus horribilis because of a fire that destroyed much of Windsor Castle, its historical documents, tapestries, and valuable pieces of art.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.”

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

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.

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

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.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

18 thoughts on “Cuba 2021: a Tragic Year and an Uncertain Future

  • It should be clear that “resistance to change” is engendered in the Cuban regime. Just see the outcome of the Obama overture. Change to them is loss of absolute power over the Cuban people. To those who blame the messenger, it’s not a new tactic. It has been used for many years, from Stalin to Castro. Shame on those who hide the truth of what is really going on in Cuba by attacking the bearers of bad news. What goes around comes around.

  • Bravo for Frank, a standard bearer fighter for the concept of Cuba Libre.
    True what Vicente & Ileana say: Frank’s attackers attack him –irrationally– rather than his points, which speak for themselves.
    BTW, what is a “hardliner:” Martí, Paul Revere, José A. Echevarría?
    And in terms of racism: it’s comical how pro-Castroites try to ignore that Batista was what today would be called “a person of color.”

  • Under the communist government Cuba has gone from being the largest sugar exporter in the world, and an exporter of meat, fruits, fish, and a number of other products to a country that cannot produce even what it needs to feed its population. The Agrarian reform was a disaster, most of the land is no longer productive, and the state farms and state companies are running at a deficit.
    Cuba’s biggest exports now is its brain capital, the exodus of its youth. And this exodus has shown what the Cubans can achieve if they are allowed to let their initiative free, they have converted Miami in the US from a sleepy small town to one of the top cities in the US.
    It is time to get rid of the corrupt Castro family and the communist Party and allow the Cubans to be free.

  • 1. Unprincipled engagement with the Castro regime (freeing Gerardo Hernandez, now in charge of repressing Cubans as head of the CDR; politicizing trafficking report in 2015 to let Cuban dictatorship off the hook; and a long etc.) led to bad outcomes ( more repression, Canadian and American diplomats with brain injuries, etc.)

    2. Internal blockade on Cubans by the Castro regime cause of economic misery. U.S. sanctions have forced tentative economic openings by Havana. Did not happen during Obama’s engagement with the regime.

    3. Instead of debating the merits of Mr. Calzon, can one address the merits of his argument, and what is happening in Cuba?

  • The regime are a bunch of monsters.
    It’s disgusting that these unelected criminals run such a lovely country Cuba.

    May democracy one day come to the Cuban people. God bless

  • Sixty-two years of dictatorial repression, executions by firing squad, summary trials, extra-judicial killings, worker exploitation, political prisoners, massive waves of fleeing refugees, abuse -read: hunger and poverty- racial discrimination, misogyny, indoctrination and a total lack of freedoms don’t seem to make a difference to Castro-regime supporters. Women are harassed by the Government, beaten and arrested by the national police, thrown in pestilent jails, custody of their children taken away, made to do hard labor which poses as volunteer community work. Black Cubans are systematically and systemically discriminated and abused, the Cuban prison population is about 90% Black, due to the conditions they are forced by the Government to live in. In fact, Black Cubans are the poorest of the poor in a country where 95% of the population lives below the poverty level. Right now, there are about 70 adolescent minors -both male and female- in jail awaiting trial looking at possible 15 and 20-year sentencies for peacefully and legally protesting on July 11. I reject and despise middle and upper-class Americans whose hypocrisy doesn’t allow them to see that Cubans want and deserve freedom and civil rights, and a better standard of living. The island-wide, spontaneous protests on July 11 prove that.

  • I appreciate all the comments my article generated. The following is information not known to my critics.

    I am a Cuban citizen, I travel with a U.S. Re-Entry Permit. My issue is Cuba and its people. I’m not obsessed with either Trump or Biden. Throughout the years I’ve helped both Democrats and Republicans who helped free Cuban political prisoners.

    Granma has written that I was recruited by the CIA in Cuba, but my parents sent me to the United States when I was sixteen years old.

    My name is not Calzone, which is an Italian sandwich, but Calzón. My father worked in the mines in Asturias, Spain. He was tortured by Franco’s Guardia Civil. When I was a little kid, Republican exiles came to play cards at our home in Havana. They laughed when I said that there was a very bad man in Spain and that his name was Francisco Franco.

    Recently, my anti-Castro credentials were questioned because I opposed the Biden Administration providing weapons and military training to the dissidents on the Island. According to some, I am a socialist because I was acquainted with Senator Ted Kennedy, who helped free the poet Heberto Padilla. He also, with the help of Bob Dole, obtained the release of Andres Solares. Others have charged that I am a communist because I graduated from Georgetown, a Jesuit university where I read Karl Marx. Granma says I am a mercenary, a terrorist, the enemy of the Cuban people and a bootlicker of the Yankees.
    Like most Cubans, I welcomed Fidel upon his triumphal march into Havana. In an unprovoked attack, at the United Nations in Geneva after a vote censuring Cuba, a Cuban diplomat hit me from behind leaving me unconscious in front of several ambassadors. It was widely reported. Governments and NGO’s filed protests.

    But, I digress.

    “Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom. The people were not satisfied with the government officials at that time, but they had the power to elect new officials and only a few days remained before they would do so. Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums and public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm.”

    Some might think those words are a piece of right wing, fascist propaganda about Cuba before the revolution. But they are not. They are Castro’s words in “History Will Absolve Me.”

    Let’s put aside our differences and call on General Castro to release all political prisoners.

  • The Embargo is nothing more that an excuse of the dictatorship for every failure in every single field. But I’ll be against the embargo if the Cuban regime let every Cuban inside and outside of the island vote for a regime change with international observers and with the opposition access to the media TV Radio , ext And If the dictatorship wins is the only way I’ll be against the “Embargo”. But the Cuban Regime would never do that.

  • Vicente,
    The author of the article is a hardline right wing individual who has written a series of entirely one sided points about how bad things are in Cuba. But he actively supports and even helps to formulate U.S. policies which are quite specifically designed to make things even worse in Cuba.
    The author is not suggesting any solution.
    That’s because he is part of the problem. Has been for years.
    There have been various excellent articles in Havana Times which make the point that guys such as this author are a big part of the problem.
    Changes are needed on both sides of the Florida Straits before Cuba can improve.

  • curious, some commentators allude to the author as an argument and not to the content of the article

  • There is a clear inconsistency here.
    The author of this article claims to be in favour of democracy.
    Yet he is a supporter of trump. And an influential one too.
    It’s like watching a vegetarian eating a plateful of hamburgers.

  • Circles, first of all I admit I have a strong bias against Frank Calzone and others of his ilk. Instead of offering workable solutions to the problems faced by Cubans, he is using this as an opportunity to gloat. The statement I have the most problems with is statement #8, where he talks about bipartisan block in Congress who advocate stronger sanctions for Cuba. The Cuban senators, Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez are from Florida and New Jersey respectively. These are states with large exile populations, along with most of the House Members of Cuban origin. Most non Cuban congressmen who support the embargo are also from those states. They feel they will win votes by pandering to the voters. Most Republicans support the right wing views of the hardline exiles and most Democrats outside of New York and New Jersey favor normal relations with Cuba. While Trump put Rubio in charge of Cuba policy, Biden has Menendez controlling Cuba policy. Both of them are just as resistance to change in policy.

  • Curt, what are the things/facts in this run down of 2021 that you disagree with. Maybe you could address the issues in the text. Let us know the things you consider true or false. It would be great to have your “objective” views on 2021 for Cubans.

  • The fact that HT would even print this garbage show the direction where the publication is going. It’s because of narrow minded hardliners like Frank Calzone and others who lobby congressmen to keep the embargo that no progress has been made to help the Cuban people. It’s only when Calzone and others of his generation die off that things in Cuba will change for the better.

  • Es decir, Sr McAucliff, la línea dura de la Plaza de la Revolución la dejamos como algo imposible de revertir, tenemos que ablandarnos desde todas partes para ver si el amo esclavista nos concede aunque sea un domingo de fiesta, tal y como hacían en los barracones cubanos los amos a sus esclavos el 6 de enero y dio origen a los carnavales.
    El problema está dentro de Cuba, lo que se discute es libertad, democracia, los cubanos no somos indígenas amansados pidiendo un poquito de comida, queremos la misma libertad, iguales derechos a cualquier europeo occidental, estadounidense o canadiense, nos creemos que estamos en igualdad de derechos humanos y eso es lo que venimos reclamando.

  • Half truths leading to a dead end.

    Does Frank work for Russia or China, or is he a plant from hard liners in Cuban intelligence?

    I know he doesn’t but they are the only ones who benefit from Trump/Biden policies.

    The Cuban people and internal reform do not.

  • Here’s the thing: the decision makers in Cuba read an article like this and puff their chest out. They are absolutely shameless. They believe that anything negative said about their leadership in the foreign media means that they are doing their job effectively. What other poor, third-world nation of barely 11 million people even gets a mention in international media? They really are sick people.

  • Great – if depressing – summary. How far do things have to fall/fail before there is (positive) change? Wish I could find the repression ‘off’ switch.

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