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Important Lessons From the Cuban Uprising of July 11, One Year Later

Levantamiento cubano, El American

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THIS MONDAY marks the one-year anniversary of the July 11 Cuban Uprising (11J). Throughout the island, in over 72 localities, hundreds of thousands of everyday Cubans took to the streets to demand freedom and an end to communist rule. Over 1,235 people, according to Prisoners Defenders, are languishing in jail for political reasons. Most of them are young and without any previous activism against the government or history in dissident movements. What does this seminal event tell us a year later?

The Cuban people have a democratic consciousness

The fact that on that epic Sunday the chants of the massive demonstrations were calls for systemic change, tells us a lot. Urgency for respect for natural and basic human rights was the norm in all the protests. A democratic transition, following an orderly process of liberation, was the common denominator. Claims for food, toiletries, and other essential items, as limited as they are in Castro’s Cuba, were not grieved for. The fact that this immense, peaceful civic uprising was unrehearsed, drives home the point of a developed culture of liberty among Cubans. 

Totalitarianism is alive and well in Cuba

Castro-communism reacted as was expected. Mass arrests, brutal beatings, wholesale torture, and sham trials evoking socialist legalism that legitimizes barbarity was the dictatorship’s response. The use of state terror was carried out expeditiously by the political police, paramilitary militias, and special forces teams. Apparently, discontented Cuban society may not have been the only segment of the population to be targeted. 

Since July 11, 2021, twenty-three high-ranking military and state security officers mysteriously died. Sixteen of these deaths occurred within 60 days of the nationwide civic uprising. This smells funny and suggests that Castroism’s counterintelligence forces, a hallmark of totalitarian regimes, have been exceptionally busy. The tight organization of society and political power, all contoured for regime survivability, does not end with simply promoting political inefficacy among the opposition and dissidence. It also calls for the constant monitoring of the dictatorship’s enforcers. Hannah Arendt wrote all about this in The Origins of Totalitarianism

The political prison system in Cuba has a revolving door

The swelling of Cuba’s gulag system has served the purpose of attempting to crush any force that challenges its power. Locking innocent people up for long prison terms, subjecting them to torture, and acts of savagery is also designed to dissuade potential freedom fighters. However, historically, Cuban political prisoners have also been used as negotiation pawns with the West. The 11J confined to Castro’s jails could very well be traded for concessions from an American administration. 

Immigration is still weaponized

The state fostering of mass exoduses into the U.S. has been an effective mode of exerting political pressure on Washington. Since 1959, the Marxist dictatorship figured out that geography could serve its subversive purpose well. Four months after 11J, Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua opened its door for the stampede of Cubans. Assurances from Mexico’s Andrés López Obrador, another staunch ally, that Cubans would not be harassed on their way to America’s southern border, was the plan. 

The result has been the largest exodus within the allotted timespan on record. A few weeks ago, the Biden administration handed the Castro regime a reversion of many of Trump’s policies. This is something that the Cuban dictatorship had been asking for.

The U.S. has given up on Cuban democratic solidarity efforts

The significant mass demonstrations of 11J, established an opportunity that the Biden administration missed. Cubans could have used the same moral positioning that the Ukrainians received from Washington. There were an enormous number of options to choose from. Taking advantage of the patriotic militancy within the island’s population and standing for Cuban freedom was not exercised. This was most regrettable.

Cuba will be free and democratic. Historical processes are dynamic. The valiant 11th of July Cuban Uprising will not go away. A new generation of opposition members has been inducted. The battle is not over. Cuba’s war of liberation continues. 11J was an important step in the path to victory. 

Julio M Shiling, political scientist, writer, director of Patria de Martí and The Cuban American Voice, lecturer and media commentator. A native of Cuba, he currently lives in the United States. Twitter: @JulioMShiling // Julio es politólogo, escritor, director de Patria de Martí y The Cuban American Voice. Conferenciante y comentarista en los medios. Natural de Cuba, vive actualmente en EE UU.

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