There is a problem in Cuba — and America's role in its solution could range from a hands-off approach up to and including military intervention.
Somerset's U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers will have a strong voice in America's reaction to the rift between Cuban freedom fighters and their government. Rogers on Wednesday was selected by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve as a member of his advisory team on Cuba.
Rogers said the group will advise House Republicans on the ongoing freedom protests and government atrocities in Cuba, develop policies to ensure the United States stands in solidarity with the Cuban freedom movement, and educate the American people on the tyranny of the communist regime in Havana.
"We cannot turn a blind eye to the abuses of human rights in Cuba," said Rogers. "This is another grave reminder of why the United States should continue to stand against the debilitating socialist principles of a Communist regime where individuals are tortured and murdered for opposing oppression.
"I am honored to be a part of Leader McCarthy's advisory team and it is my goal to hold this Communist regime accountable for their inhumane practices and to support the brave Cubans who are fighting for their lives and their freedom," added Rogers, a ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.
The recent street protests that erupted in Cuba were the biggest in a quarter century, when then-President Fidel Castro personally went into the streets to calm crowds of thousands furious over dire shortages that gripped the island following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had long backed its socialist ally.
Many expressed anger over long lines and shortages of food and medicines, as well as repeated electricity outages. Some demanded a faster pace of vaccination against COVID-19. But there were also calls for political change in a country governed by the Communist Party for some six decades. Some demonstrators chanted “Liberty!” “Down with the dictatorship!” and “Fatherland and life!” — a twist on the revolutionary slogan, “Fatherland or death!”
“It’s time for things to change. The situation is critical,” Cristian Veliz, a 22-year-old construction worker, told The Associated Press.
Cuba’s government blames its hardships on U.S. sanctions that it calculates cost the island $5.5 billion last year, though the figure is strongly disputed by its critics. It also claims the U.S. government and its enemies in the U.S. of using social media tools such as Twitter to send messages organizing the street protests.
Critics blame the government’s failure to shake up the eternally dismal state-run economy. While the government has created a series of broader openings for small-scale private businesses, they remain tightly controlled and limited. Cuba also has relied in recent years on tourism — income that has been devastated by the global pandemic — and on aid from ally Venezuela, which has declined along with Venezuela’s own economy.
A move this year to combine the country’s two sorts of currency into one also caused sharp inflation.
“The world has witnessed powerful images coming out of Cuba in recent days," said McCarthy. "With thousands of Cubans in more than 40 cities and small towns taking to the streets, the protests mark a historic moment in a society whose Communist system has oppressed its citizens for more than 60 years.
"The Cuban people are risking everything to free themselves, their families, their country, and their futures from their socialist prison," the GOP House Leader added. "For 62 years, we have stood with them in support of their desire for liberty and self-determination. As the situation in Cuba reaches a turning point, we must stand unequivocally with Cuba’s brave freedom fighters. They need our robust support, not weak rhetoric."
Many protesters did learn of the demonstrations over social media platforms that have only recently become widespread in Cuba. They also used their phones to take images that were transmitted at home and abroad. The government responded by shutting down mobile data services by the state-run phone monopoly, effectively cutting off social media. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said officials detected the use of so-called “bots” based in the U.S. to bombard Cuban phones with messages. Social media services began to become widespread only in 2018.
U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement of support for the protesters, saying, ”We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
But the protests create a challenge for him, with political ramifications in Florida, a key electoral battleground that is home to many of the Cuban-Americans who left the island because of the Communist government there, as well as other people who fled from leftist regimes in Latin America. Republican lawmakers in particular are pushing for the administration to increase support for the demonstrators. So far, Biden has responded cautiously while officials continue with a review of U.S. Cuba policy. So far he has not embraced the political and economic opening to Cuba carried out by the Obama administration — which was largely rolled back by former President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Congressman Rogers also signed a joint letter urging leaders of Democratic states to take action in support of the Cuban people and their democratic aspirations. The letter outlines a number of essential actions that must be taken to hold the Communist regime accountable.
In a sign of solidarity, Rogers also cosponsored a bipartisan House resolution (H.Res. 529) standing for the Cuban people and their struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights.
The resolution specifically states "the Communist regime in Cuba has advanced a violent system of censorship, detention, torture and murder of political opponents, repression of pro-Democracy efforts, and severe restrictions on movement and emigration."
It also declares "the Cuban people are entitled to a representative government that fundamentally respects freedom, democracy, and human rights" and resolves that "the House of Representatives stands in solidarity with the people of Cuba and their fight to achieve freedom, democracy, and human rights."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.