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Breitbart international news editor Frances Martel joined Orlando Avendaño for an exclusive interview for El American to discuss the recent surge of peaceful demonstrations in Cuba against the communist tyranny of the Castro brothers and Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Martel, a Cuban-born journalist, considers it important to emphasize that these protests have been precedented since the Castro dictatorship has “tortured and killed” and many people have suffered in the multiple uprisings that have taken place in the last 20 years.
“Yes it bothers me that they say that the demonstrations are unprecedented because they have tortured, they have killed many people, many dissidents have suffered for this moment to come,” Martel said. “What is unprecedented is the support that the Cuban community has today. Even artists from all over Latin America, who tend to be more on the left, are standing with us.”
The Cuban journalist highlighted cases such as that of Laura Pollán Toledo, founder of the prominent Cuban opposition group, Ladies in White, or that of political leader and journalist, Guillermo Fariñas, who has gone on nearly 25 hunger strikes against the dictatorship.
“We have to recognize the people who sacrificed so much as to stop the people from having this fear,” Martel said, also mentioning the multiple demonstrations carried out by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), catalogued by the United States as the largest opposition group in the island nation. “If we forget those sacrifices, I don’t think we will have a successful future no matter how many demonstrations there are.”
Demonstrations in Cuba: with or without precedents?
However, Martel explains why there is a tendency to describe these incidents as unique and unprecedented. It has been almost 20 years since the so-called Black Spring in Cuba: a surge of arbitrary arrests against detractors of the then president, Fidel Castro, on March 18, 19 and 20, 2003, which resulted in a total of 75 dissidents arrested and sentenced under the infamous “Law 88 for the Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy“, known by Cubans as the Gag Law.
At that time, when the U.S. incursion into Iraq was imminent and the United Nations was loudly rejecting it, the Castro dictatorship saw the perfect excuse to pass the Gag Law, whose first section states:
“The purpose of this law is to criminalize and punish those acts aimed at supporting, facilitating or collaborating with the objectives of the Helms-Burton Act, the blockade and the economic war against our people, aimed at disrupting the internal order, destabilizing the country and liquidating the Socialist State and the independence of Cuba”.
Among other things, Fidel’s Gag Law contemplated (and still contemplates) sentences of between 15 and 30 years of imprisonment against those who, according to the repressive forces of the dictatorship, offered information or favored the United States in the economic embargo.
Thus, the 75 detained dissidents, including activists, artists, doctors and journalists, received penalties ranging from 12 to 28 years of imprisonment. Although the measure was rejected by the United States, the European Union, Pope John Paul II, the international press and numerous human rights organizations, the dictatorship came out of its repressive outburst with flying colors.
It was also in honor of the Group of 75 that the Ladies in White subsequently declared March 18 as the “Day of the Prisoner of Conscience“, and kept the dictatorship on its toes with repeated marches through the streets of Havana.
It is understandable then, for Frances Martel, that there are those who consider this year’s protests an isolated and unprecedented event. “Twenty years later, there are young people who don’t remember that incident,” Martel said. “There is a new generation participating in these demonstrations.”
In addition, Martel thinks that in recent years, along with the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan communities, also repressed under Castro-allied communist dictatorships, the Cuban community has “made it more popular” in the United States “to accept that communism is a horror, it’s an atrocity.”
“Today, a person who wears a ‘Che’ [Guevara] T-shirt in the United States has a chance that someone will stop him and say: sir, you have a murderer on your T-shirt,” Martel said, noting that a few years ago there was still no such recognition in America about the horrors of communism.
Hypocrisy and similarities between Cuba and the U.S.
Martel also made a curious remark: in recent years, in the United States, there has been great media agitation pointing out cases of police brutality against Afro-Americans, something that has also been seen in Cuba in recent days.
“In the last year we had the cause of police brutality against people of color, and now we have videos from Cuba, taken by Cubans, of people of color being gunned down by police in their own homes,” Martel recounted. “People understand that it is hypocritical to say that this is a horror in the United States but it is not in Cuba.”
In addition, she believes the authorities in the United States must recognize the magnitude of the recent demonstrations on the island of Cuba, something that “would not have happened” in 2019, and believes that the idea that these protests have something to do with the embargo or COVID-19 is nothing more than a distraction strategy. “What the coronavirus has done is to put on the front page the hypocrisy and abuse of the regime,” she expressed.
“The communist regime tried to make money on the pandemic by inviting tourists in the summer of 2020,” while refusing to close schools. “These people are not asking for vaccines and they are not asking for food: they are asking for freedom, they are asking for weapons so they can free themselves, and they are asking for human dignity.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration seems to be giving in to pressure from the left, and is now considering the possibility of softening its stance on Cuba and facilitating the sending of remittances to Cubans. His predecessor, President Trump, in November last year, banned remittances to Cuba because, according to studies, the Castro dictatorship kept 74 % of each dollar sent, which allowed the financing of the regime indirectly.
Cuba, as it does not get used to it, needs weapons
In Cuba, there is an entire generation that, in Martel’s words, “does not know freedom,” but it is not necessary to know it “to know that one is repressed.”
Cuba’s Black Spring and the communist dictatorship that oppresses Venezuela are examples of a very harsh reality that Martel recalls: “Peaceful demonstrations alone, without organization and without leadership, are very dangerous because they end in many deaths, many political prisoners and more power for the leaders” of those regimes.
In that sense, Martel considers that what Cubans need from the United States and the international community is, first of all, “to stop giving money to the regime.” And secondly, what Cuba needs are weapons: “guns, machetes, whatever.”
“If you talk to any Cuban, they tell you: we don’t want American soldiers to die with us, we don’t want anyone to fight on our behalf. We fight, but we can’t fight without weapons,” Martel sentenced. “Especially if, for example, Spain sold more than a million dollars in military equipment to Cuba last year.”
Martel believes that, with these measures, instead of helping the Cuban people, “they are helping the regime to repress.” So, according to his position, the United States should “help” the Cuban people “to arm themselves.”
“Americans understand very well the importance of guns, because they have the Second Amendment, and they understand that without that there is no republic, there is no freedom,” she added.
So for Martel, it is very clear that what Cubans need is not “Uncle Sam coming to rescue us,” because it is a problem that Cubans want to solve by themselves.
Military intervention in Cuba?
In recent days, the mayor of Miami, American of Cuban descent Francis Suarez, called for a U.S.-led international military intervention to “protect the Cuban people from a bloodbath.”
“They are drug traffickers, they are terrorists and they are people who are exporting the ideology of communism throughout the hemisphere,” the mayor said of the Cuban regime. “This affects the national security of the United States.”
In this regard, Francis Martel’s position is clear: “whatever it takes”. “Something that many people don’t know about the history of Cuba is that, when the American revolution took place, Cuban women sold their clothes to send money to George Washington in order to liberate the United States,” she said.
“Cubans have contributed a lot” to the United States, and they have done so “militarily,” so it would not be unreasonable to pose a military scenario. However, that should not be the first step. “We can’t just go from nowhere to bomb Havana with drones,” Martel said.
“We have to start with concrete support for the people,” but it is not crazy to consider the possibility of an armed intervention on Cuban soil given “Cuba’s relationship with the United States” throughout its history.
A unique opportunity
The protests of recent days in Cuba represent an opportunity that cannot be missed. “If we miss it, this will be a massacre,” Martel said.
Cubans are now facing a degree of repression that the new generations have never experienced before, and whose consequences could mark their minds for decades, as has happened before. In fact, Frances considers that it is time to set an example to other countries currently repressed by authoritarian regimes: “in all repressed countries, if there is a demonstration, they will remember what happened in Cuba and they will not want to support it.”
For this to end, “the entire military leadership must resign, the entire Castro family” and all those responsible must be judged, prosecuted and condemned, Martel considers. “The only thing that really works is justice.”
If this moment is not seized, “the fear that the Cuban people will have will be so great that it will be another 20, 30, or 40 years of repression and communism.”