Cuba's Protests Are a Sign of Imperial Overreach

Busy exploiting its Venezuelan colony, the communist regime failed to see the discontent brewing at home.


As global trends pushed Cuba's chronically depressed economy into a devastating crisis, the island faced one of two scenarios. On the one hand, a popular reaction "sparked by a growing scarcity of goods, with street protests and possible riots as a general rehearsal for a great national uprising." On the other, "a conspiracy of high-ranking military officers," whose leaders fear that an unyielding communist dictator "will drag them all down as the regime falters."

So wrote Cuban exile Carlos Alberto Montaner in 1994. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which had kept Cuba barely afloatbut only by subsidizing around 23 percent of its GDP between 1985 and 1988—had dealt dictator Fidel Castro a serious blow. Desperate, he promised that "the island would sink into the sea before capitalism returns." Castro's insistence on maintaining Cuban communism intact even as relics of the Berlin Wall traveled the world in the form of commercial memorabilia elicited paleontological metaphors. Portuguese President Mário Soares referred to Castro as a political dinosaur; "a respected species, albeit endangered." ABC, a Spanish newspaper, went a step further and branded Castro "the last tyrannosaurus." The end seemed nigh. "Cuban communism," wrote Montaner, "doesn't have the slightest chance of prevailing without Moscow's constant and nourishing tutelage."

Alas, the closest thing to a mass revolt in post-Soviet Cuba was a protest at Havana's esplanade, the Malecón, by several hundred people in 1994. The so-called Maleconazo saw a huge turnout against the regime by the island's totalitarian standards, but it wasn't exactly the Storming of the Bastille. Castro, however, feared the evident unease enough to allow tens of thousands of Cubans to embark north on precarious rafts, a rehash of the Mariel boatlift tactics of 1980, when 125,000 seafaring refugees, among them many convicts, unleashed an immigration crisis in South Florida.

The longed-for officers' coup against Castro, an undying hope of the exile community in Miami, proved to be as elusive as a popular insurrection. Perhaps even more so given that Castro, after seizing power in 1959, had turned the Cuban military into a highly ideologized, fiercely loyal force, where allegiance to orthodox communism and to Castro himself was the sine qua non of promotion. As one scholar wrote in 1976, graduates of the Cuban military academy, 90 percent of whom were members of the Communist Party, had been drilled with "the principles of Marxism-Leninism" and "an almost Maoist orientation toward the role of consciousness." Indoctrination aside, Montaner explained, Cuba's military was not an independent, republican institution, but rather a body which the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, created, "with more traits of a leader's personal band than of official armed forces."

Fidel Castro survived the Cold War by turning Cuba, a country that was on the cusp of development in 1959, into an impoverished barnacle parasitically attached to the Soviet mother ship. Parasitism again saved Castro not long after the USSR became history. In 1994, as many predicted Castro's imminent demise, the tyrant paid an official tribute in Havana to a former Venezuelan lieutenant colonel named Hugo Chávez, who had led a failed yet bloody coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992. During the lavish ceremony, Castro applauded as Chávez, fresh out of jail after receiving a pardon from Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, hailed Cuba as "a bastion of Latin American dignity." He also proclaimed his intentions to launch "a revolutionary project" and to turn all of Latin America "into the single nation that we are."

Only four years later, Castro's new protege was elected president of Venezuela, the country that would have the world's largest oil reserves by 2010. In 2011, Venezuela was covering 61 percent of Cuba's energy needs with a constant and increasing oil supply, exporting an average of 105,000 barrels per day to the island between 2007 and 2014. In return for such largesse, Cuba exported to Venezuela its own comparative advantage, refined for decades under Castro's unparalleled expertise: namely, political repression of the most brutal variety, albeit under the guise of revolutionary humanitarianism.

In 2000, the two countries signed an agreement whereby Venezuela would send Cuba an initial 53,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for the "gratuitous medical services" of "Cuban specialist doctors and health care technicians." In 2012, Chávez claimed there were over 44,000 Cuban doctors, nurses, ophthalmologists, and therapists working in seven "medical missions" in Venezuela. Julio César Alfonso, an exiled Cuban doctor, describes such missions, which were replicated at a smaller scale in dozens of other countries, as "a booming business for the Cuban government, and a form of modern slavery." In fact, the state's earnings, which accounted for the equivalent of USD $6.4 billion in 2018 nearly twice the amount Cubans received from cash remittanceshinge on allowing the medical personnel to keep, at best, a mere quarter of their wages based on the amount Cuba receives per professional.

The humanitarian facade concealed a silent invasion. In 2018, Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, revealed that at least 22,000 Cubans had infiltrated the Venezuelan state, particularly the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. The infamous Helicoide in Caracas, the headquarters of this ruthless spy agency that Chávez created in 2009, is a well-known torture chamber. According to a 2019 CASLA Institute study, members of Cuba's Intelligence Directorate, commonly known as G2, had their own base of operations in Caracas and were directly involved in the Venezuelan regime's systematic use of torture against political opponents. Under expert Cuban guidance, Venezuela even turned its intelligence services "on its own armed forces, instilling fear and paranoia and quashing dissent," as Reuters reported in 2019.

Cuban operatives also have provided security for both Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. In 2019, when journalist Jorge Ramos and his Univision colleagues were held by Maduro's forces after an aborted interview attempt in the Miraflores Palace, team members detected the Cuban accents of several men within the dictator's innermost security circle.

If the two countries had become "a single nation," as Chávez himself assured in 2007, it was because Cuba, that bastion of anti-imperialist Latin American dignity, turned the far larger and richer Venezuela into a colony. Rich, that is, until Cuban and Cuba-backed communists took over. In 2001, at the outset of Chávez's presidency, Venezuela was South America's richest country; recently, it was declared poorer than Haiti.

As Venezuela spiraled toward its humanitarian collapse, colonial policy dictated that Fidel Castro's successors at the helm of the Cuban regime—initially his brother Raul, thereafter Communist Party bureaucrat Miguel Díaz-Canelsummon all their mastery in the arts of intimidation to keep Maduro in power. The Cubans were instrumental in suppressing the massive protests against Chavismo in 2017; in implementing the "revolving-door" technique, whereby certain political prisoners are set free while new ones are incarcerated; and in luring the hapless opposition into dead-end negotiations each time the regime was against the wall. Over the years, in fact, I've seen enough reports about Maduro's certain downfall so as to take the recent, euphoric assurances about the Cuban dictatorship's imminent end with a grain of salt.

Whether or not the current protests in Cuba endanger the tyranny, they do contain several levels of irony. Not least since the regime that exports doctors and nurses as if they were commodities and touts its decrepit health care system as a global example, fooling gullible Western intellectuals such as Michael Moore, is now facing popular unrest due, in large part, to a severe health care crisis. Although the media has claimed that the pandemic brought the Cuban health care system to the brink of breakdown, this is nothing new. In 2015, a PanAm Post reporter visited a Havana hospital undercover, only to find shortages of basic medical supplies, improvised stretchers, filthy bathrooms lacking doors or toilet paper, wards staffed only by medical students, and patients forced to supply their own sheets, pillows, and medicine. In recent weeks, heightened attention and a broader use of social media tools have made this reality evident to anyone willing to pay attention.

Another irony is that, while Chávez referred to Cuba as an inspiration to the Latin American youthto this day, an image of serial killer Che Guevara overlooks the main square at Colombia's National Universityit is now the young, tech-savvy Cubans, some of them prominent artists, who are denouncing the regime most effectively. Perhaps it's the inevitable effect of depriving the TikTok generation of internet access, let alone the most basic liberties, which they now demand. Perhaps Castro's death as a nonagenarian despot in 2016 and his eventual replacement with Díaz-Canel, a drab, middle-aged apparatchik, exhausted any remnants of the Cuban revolution's youthful charm of the 1950s, when The New York Times' Herbert L. Matthews praised Castro as "the rebel leader of Cuba's youth," and Castro assured a star-struck Ed Sullivan that Fulgencio Batista would "be the last dictator of Cuba."

Finally, there is the boomerang nature of the current protests. In late 2019, as vandals destroyed public infrastructure and private property across much of Santiago, Chile's capital, Maduro claimed that "the plan" he and his allies had concocted some months earlier at the São Paulo Forum, an annual gathering of left-wing parties, was working "perfectly." One of his underlings bragged that a "Bolivarian breeze" was blowing across the region. These weren't empty boasts; Venezuela and Cuba have certainly fomented mayhem in South America's constitutional republics. In May, as violent protests engulfed Colombia, that country's government expelled a Cuban diplomat for carrying out "activities that were incompatible" with his diplomatic role. Now that Cuba's supposedly submissive population is bravely standing up for its freedom in Havana itself, rumors abound of Cubans stationed in Venezuela being summoned back to the island to quash the rebellion. It's a classic case of imperial overreach, much like that of Spartans lording it over much of Greece, only to face a sudden helot revolt at home.

It was a Greek historian, Polybius, who described the cyclical nature of revolutions: In their various forms, one-man rule, oligarchy, and democracy tend to succeed one another. With time, even the Cuban Revolution might see its tyrants fall.

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  1. Not least since the regime that exports doctors and nurses as if they were commodities and touts its decrepit health care system as a global example, fooling gullible Western intellectuals such as Michael Moore, is now facing popular unrest due, in large part, to a severe health care crisis.

    Is this from the Babylon Bee?

    1. Nor is is April 1st.

  2. If Trump was still President, Cubans (with assistance from the US) would likely have toppled the Castro regime by now.

    In contrast, the left wing Biden administration has done notg to help the Cubans, while warning those found in boats, life rafts or swimming to Florida that they will be returned to the communist totalitarians (for certain imprisonment and likely torture).

    Meanwhile, BLM has absurdly blamed the US Government for Cuba’s/Castro’s inhumane actions and enslavement of Cubans.

    1. After Biden/Harris invited all of the world’s poorest people (very few of whom legally qualify for asylum) to illegally cross the Mexican border and take up residence in the US (more than 1 million did so already this year), the Democrats are trying to deny entry into America and legal asylum for the 12 million Cubans who are forced to live under totalitarian Communism.

      1. Those Cubans will vote Republican and are not socialist Bill. We can’t let people like that in the country.

        1. I’m pretty sure the same goes for Hong Kong. We wouldn’t want anyone coming here with actual experience of living under communism.

        2. Maybe, but the first wave here were the property and business owners who voted Republican. The ones left were amenable to live in a socialist state. If they make it here they’ll probably vote for more free stuff.

          1. They’ll vote for the one who sound and act less like their former rulers.

            Which means they will not vote Democrat.

      2. Democrats have never been anything but anti immigrant. Actually there are few proponents of real immigration reform anywhere. Even here among those who consider themselves libertarian.

        1. There’s a big difference between being anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. I’m emphatically not the former, but am emphatically the latter, and it doesn’t waver depending on who I think they might vote for. Mine is based entirely on continent sustainability in a wide number of areas, though I think we likely passed that threshold in about 1960.

          With the world’s 3rd largest population, this idea that we need more people is a motto for the sake of a motto, and without an exit or termination strategy. One that may have had value in 1880, but has outlived its usefulness. We are effectively doubling the national population every 50 years, and it’s just stupid to keep that model running indefinitely just because the French gave us a statue and some 30 yr old chick wrote a plaque for it 150 years ago.

  3. Ive noticed the standard left wingers on here (or the ones who try and defend every left position, consistently) have been conspicuously absent from the Cuba conversations.

    What’s wrong guys? Is it tough to watch the people you go to bat for be so wrong? Is it hard to watch them argue that the US is a racist shit/hell-hole and that Cuba has universal healthcare, great schools, and equity?

    Maybe its because there is a massive spotlight on the fact that every idea you have about how we should govern and set up society results in massive failure, poverty, and infringement on civil rights.

    But dont take it from me, maybe listen to those black and brown people who are screaming for liberty at the top of their lungs, rather than telling them how bad the US / capitalism is for blacks.

    1. Because leftists like the Cuban government and don’t see the oppression and poverty there as anything other than an unfortunate price that must be paid for the greater good of equality and fee healthcare.

      Wherever in the world a boot is on a face, there is a western leftist there to inform everyone that the face has free healthcare and education. Same as it ever was.

      1. Does the boot not get anything out of the deal? Maybe some new laces once in a while?

    2. Three hours have passed since JimboJr’s posting, and the lefty losers still haven’t responded.

      Cuba could well become the Democrat’s Achilles Heel in the 2022 and/or 2024.

      1. I’m sure Tony/Raspberry butt dinners will come along anytime now, with something along the lines of “Well, at least the Democrats act like they care…”

    3. They’re mostly paid to shitpost here. Their benefactors probably want them to spend time muddying up a different topic.

  4. Excellent article

  5. I suppose you could say the fall of the USSR was the result of imperial overreach. Had the USSR not spent the money it took to enslave eastern Europe, invade Afghanistan, and fund communist revolutionary groups all over the world, it might have lasted a bit longer. While that might be true, we will never know, it obscures the larger truth that the USSR failed because communism is an evil system that starves and oppresses it’s people. The same is true of Cuba.

    1. The fact of the matter is the USSR and Cuba need their imperialism to continuously expand to outrun the internal failure of their beliefs. US “imperialism” may benefit us but it does so in a manner that benefits many others simultaneously (not an endorsement of forever war)

  6. “a rehash of the Mariel boatlift tactics of 1980, when 125,000 seafaring refugees, among them many convicts, unleashed an immigration crisis in South Florida.”

    Sorry, Daniel, but it’s been decided statements like this are racist.

    1. The funny thing about that is that while there were a good number of no kidding criminals in the boat lift, the majority of the “convicts” were convicted of things like talking about forming a union or questioning the wisdom of socialism and the like. Today, we have no kidding killer gang members coming over the border by the thousands and no one dare speak of it. Yet, it is no big deal to lump people convicted of political crimes in with the rest of the “convicts” in the Mariel boatlift.

      1. Well sure. Political crimes are worse for certain citizens now too.

        1. See people held for the protest on Jan 6 for a recent example.

  7. I’m so glad I’m not a communist. They’re such assholes.

    1. Communism is the opiate of the asses.

  8. Sparta and the Helot rebellion? Wow! The homeland rises up against the greedy, over-extended empire is an OLD story!

    The French government spent TONS of money helping the American Revolution, freeing Americans from an over-taxing, tyrannical monarchy… With the French peasants paying taxes out the ass, to THEIR over-taxing, tyrannical monarchy, to pay for it all! And this was a root cause, apparently, at least ONE root cause, of the French Revolution.

    Now we have brutal shortages in the Cuban Worker’s Paradise, ’cause the Cubans had their “Paradise” robbed in order to provide OTHER people with THEIR “Paradise”.

    Here in the USA, we were taxed and taxed to bring “freedom” to (among others) Afghans. Meanwhile, the USA is the ONLY nation on the planet, where we do NOT have the freedom to blow on a cheap plastic “lung flute”, without first getting the permission of a Government Almighty degreed, credentialled, and licensed doctor of doctorology! Will the now-returning USA troop coming back from Afghanistan, PLEASE go apply some muscle to the FDA, and get US poor USA citizens, some freedom from our domestic tyrants at the FDA?

    Enough of being taxed for the freedoms of others! How about freedom for US? But I’m not holding my breath!

    In the meantime, PLEASE, stay ye SAFE from the flute tyrants!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

      1. Super-Perv-Predator-Sevo-the-Pedo, Hippo wearing a Speedo, enlightens us ALL with Wisdom from His Ass-Crack! Keep on SMOKIN’ that ass-CRACK stuff, Speedo-Hippo!!!

  9. “Ocasio-Cortez’s call to lift the embargo, which has been in place since 1962, echoed that of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who tweeted earlier this week that the embargo had “only hurt, not helped, the Cuban people.” In addition, the Black Lives Matter group denounced the embargo Wednesday as a “cruel and inhumane policy” that was “instituted with the explicit intention of destabilizing the country and undermining Cubans’ right to choose their own government.”

    None of these ever mentions that Cuba has been free to trade with anyone else in the entire world.

    1. It also never considers what it says about communism that the communist paradise of Cuba can’t feed it’s people without trading with the evil capitalist America. If communism is so wonderful, why does it require trading with capitalist nations to function?

      1. You: “If communism is so wonderful, why does it require trading with capitalist nations to function?

        AOC: ” [Ignoring your actual question] Because we have all the resources and we have to share.”

        You: “Well they are perfectly free to trade with Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia, or any country in Latin America.”

        AOC: “Because it isn’t fair that they would have to go that far.”

        You: “Stupid cunt.”

        AOC: Misogynist!

        1. The embargo doesn’t help the people of Cuba. It helps their rulers… It helps their rulers to blame the USA instead of blaming themselves!

          Way to go, pro-embargo, anti-freedom people! Anti-MY-freedom-to-trade-with-whoever-I-want-to! Way to HELP the brutal rulers of Cuba!

          1. Trading with Cuba doesn’t help the people of Cuba either. Cuba is a country where the rulers steal everything from the people. Trading with them is not going to help the people since any money the people get from trading will be stolen by the government. All trading with Cuba accomplishes is allowing Cuba to better fund it’s police state and it’s leaders to further enrich themselves. How anyone could be dumb enough to think the money they spend in a place like Cuba doesn’t end up in the pocket of the government is beyond me.

            1. As I posted below, Cuba has plenty of resources but unfortunately it is all been squandered for over 60 years in the name of political orthodoxy; well that and propping up a dictatorial regime.

              1. It is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean. It should be paradise.

  10. The embargo didn’t matter, that’s a ruse to blame the US for communism’s failings. Anyway WTF would they trade that we can’t get anywhere else for less?

    1. In addition to its agriculture, “Cuba’s natural resources include: cobalt, nickel, iron ore, chromium, copper, salt, timber, silica, and petroleum.”

      And of course they could have a thriving tourist economy [Copa Cabana anyone?].

      But unfortunately it is all been squandered for over 60 years in the name of political orthodoxy; well that and propping up a dictatorial regime.

      1. Yeah, easing the travel ban to Cuba was one of the best things Obama did.

        The Dems are in charge now. If they’re blaming the embargo for Cuba’s ills, why not end it?

        1. Not really because the terms were still dictated by the State. The locals may benefit in Americans tipping, but the State steals everything else.

      2. Cuba is the example that proves socialism is not the answer to the inherited problems of slavery and colonialism. The land is fertile, there are plentiful natural resources, and it is square in the middle of a tourist region rife with wealthy travelers from all over the world.

        Compare them with the tiny specks of land that form the Cayman islands. In comparison the only thing the Caymans have going for them is a stable and responsible system of law. Which has generated them tremendous wealth in the banking sector. Sadly, so much so that, with Covid as either the reason or a convenient excuse, they have decided they can pretty much live without a tourist industry.

        Even so, they are proof that high trust societies prosper while low trust ones lose.

        And which way are we currently headed?

        1. “…high trust societies prosper while low trust ones lose.”

          Agreed! Where are WE headed? To a LOW trust society, where we trust, and trade with, NO ONE, unless they are EXACTLY like US!

          If trade wars are good (including trade war on Cuba), and economic independence is GREAT, then every one of the 50 states in the USA should declare trade wars on every other state… And then county on county, city on city, and finally, SQRLSY One’s household should trade with NO ONE… Good jobs ONLY for residents of SQRLSY One’s household!!! No one else DESERVES to trade with me!!! I will do my own iron ore mining, smelting, tool manufacture, food growing, cloth weaving, home dentistry, you name it… It is actually a straight-line ticket to utter poverty!!!

  11. And the answer is, “Cubans!”

    The question is, “Which immigrants do democrats hate?”

  12. End the embargo. It won’t end the government of Cuba but it would help the Cuban people and allow Americans to trade with and visit Cuba.

    Unfortunately these protests are unlikely to accomplish anything.

    I am pretty close to open borders in general so sure let them come if they can get here.

    1. “…it would help the Cuban people…”

      LOL, you have no evidence with which to make that claim. In fact all evidence points to the opposite – trade doing nothing to ease their perpetual suffering.

      Because, as multiple people in this very discussion have noted, Cuba trades with practically everyone around us, yet they still suffer horribly. The problem is not lack of trade, it is an oppressive totalitarian socialist regime.

      What in the world makes you think trade with the US would change that one iota?

      1. “…Cuba trades with practically everyone around us…”

        Which (to an individual-freedom-loving individual ass opposed to an all-is-for-the-HIVE collectivist) brings up an important question: WHY are individuals and their free-market reps, companies, in ALL of these nations, allowed to make free-market trading choices, but WE, ass ass-fucked slaves to the USA Government Almighty, are NOT free to trade? ThomasD, if you want to NOT buy Cuban products, be my guest! But WHY do you insist on using the USA collective Hive to make MY choices for me? Because the Cuba collective Hive is BAD, right? And YOU and your ilk are NOT? Can ye NOT see yer hypocrisy?

      2. Trump’s trade wars have done NOTHING for the oppressed Uighurs, Tibetans, or the people of Hong Kong! Prove otherwise, TrumpTards!

        The never-ending trade war against Cuba (under D and R POTUSes alike) is NO different!

        What have trade wars done for YOU lately?!?!? No, really?

  13. >>Western intellectuals such as Michael Moore

    different guy?

    1. My only question is do you call that statement gas lighting or gas bagging?

  14. “the Mariel boatlift tactics of 1980, when 125,000 seafaring refugees, among them many convicts, unleashed an immigration crisis in South Florida.” And the overwrought/over-acted 1983 movie Scarface.

    1. One man’s overwrought over acted movie is another man’s kitsch classic. Say hello to my little friend and leave Scarface alone!!

  15. If NOT getting involved in Cuba’s domestic nonsense makes their domestic nonsense our fault, imagine how much of it would be our fault if we WERE getting involved in Cuba’s domestic nonsense.

    And of course, we have been involved in their domestic nonsense in the past. Especially when their ‘friends’ wanted to put just a couple of nuclear weapons on their island. You know, for ‘safety’.

    Cuba is the one that decided that the United States was a less attractive neighbor than, say, the no-shit Soviet Union. If that doesn’t tell how how fucked up their leaders are/were, then nothing really will. That, or you’re the type of American Leftist that views the Soviet Union as a nation to emulate rather than a geopolitical foe.

    The great irony to me is the left getting mad at Donald Trump for the appearance of being friendly with the Russians while giving leftists a full pass for actually openly working with the Russians. It makes one’s head spin.

  16. “Castro, after seizing power in 1959, had turned the Cuban military into a highly ideologized, fiercely loyal force, where allegiance to orthodox communism and to Castro himself was the sine qua non of promotion.”

    Coming soon to a Department of Defense near you . . .

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