Earlier today, the White House announced that President Obama will travel to Cuba, becoming the first sitting president to visit the communist island in 88 years. This announcement comes 15 months after the Obama Administration decided to restore ties with the communist dictatorship.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said, “In Cuba, the President will work to build on the progress we have made toward normalization of relations with Cuba—advancing commercial and people-to-people ties that can improve the well-being of the Cuban people, and expressing our support for human rights.” While the White House indicated the president would meet with Communist Leader Raúl Castro, as well as some Cuban citizens and entrepreneurs, no indication was given whether the latter group would include leaders of the democratic opposition or noted dissidents who continue to suffer at the hands of the regime despite warming relations with the US.
To help our readers better understand the situation in Cuba and why freedom-loving people everywhere should be concerned with any attempt to rejuvenate its failing system of oppression, we at VOC have rounded up our best articles dealing with the communist island:
FOUR THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE VISITING CUBA by David Talbot
So you’ve heard that restrictions on travel to Cuba have been relaxed and you’re thinking about visiting. Perhaps you’re looking for beautiful beaches and a charming, colonial-era ambiance. Or maybe you’re drawn to Cuba’s iconic revolutionary history. Even if you are utterly apolitical, you may be intrigued by those old black-and-white photos of bearded, cigar-chomping guerillas and their stirring slogans. All in all, it seems like a romantic and unusual vacation spot. Before you book that ticket though, here are four points to reflect on …
The special day, it seemed, couldn’t be ruined by awkward reminders of the reality of life in Cuba today. As if to illustrate this point, a group of anti-Castro protestors at the flag-raising ceremony began to chant, “Cuba sin Castro!” (“Cuba without Castro”) only to be shouted down by pro-regime crowds yelling “Viva Raul!” and “Fi-del, Fi-del!” Unfortunately, this episode was typical of the last few months of U.S-Cuba relations: the voices of earnest dissidents being drowned out by the angry clamor of groupthink.
“THERE’S JUST NO MILK:” SHORTAGE AND NEED IN CUBA by Zachary Silverman
“Win this auction, and you force all three of your opponents to forfeit their shopping baskets and share this community basket.” However silly it may seem, this little vignette illustrates some of the everyday realities of living in a communist state. While the contestants on Cutthroat Kitchen know what they’re getting into by going on the show, the sort of arbitrary favoritism and forced shortages that they navigate are characteristic features of government on the communist island.
NOTED CUBAN DISSIDENT AWARDED VOC PRIZE by VOC Staff
Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban psychologist, journalist and political dissident. Growing up in communist Cuba, Fariñas is the son of a military man who fought under Che Guevara. From an early age, Fariñas was a member of a Communist Youth organization and a supporter of the Cuban Revolution. It was not until the 1980s that Fariñas began to become aware of the many and varied human rights abuses of the Castro regime. After being punished for exposing widespread corruption in his healthcare workers union, he gradually but surely began to align with the opposition. Fariñas faced more and more government scrutiny as he distanced himself from the regime, eventually facing numerous spurious criminal charges and spending close to 11 years in prison.
CUBA PROPS UP VENEZUELAN STONG MAN by Matias Ilivitzky
After a third round of negotiations between the US and Cuba, held surreptitiously in Havana on March 16, ended only a day after they started, diplomats from both sides refrained from talking to the press. That didn’t stop Cuba’s octogenarian dictator Raul Castro from publicly denouncing America for its tough stance on another brutal Latin American government–Venezuela–and suggesting that the current diplomatic failure is linked to recent American sanctions against top Venezuelan leaders.
CUBA AND THE USSR: A LOVE STORY by Katarina Hall
Fidel Castro toured the Soviet Union in 1963 at the invitation of the communist leader Nikita Khrushchev. During his 40-day trip across the USSR, Castro gave countless speeches in stadiums, factories, and town centers. Fidel had been influenced by the Soviet example years before he even declared himself a communist—and even before the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
THE ONGOING DICTATORSHIP IN CUBA by Matias Ilivitzky
While the U.S. has awarded the Cuban government with increased diplomatic recognition and eased certain travel restrictions, the Cuban regime hasn’t even done all of what was requested by the US in return to improve the lives of everyday Cubans and of its detainees in particular. True, Cuba has begun to free some of the 53 prisoners promised freedom according to the U.S. deal. But illegal detentions and harassment of dissidents are still the order of the day in the island; the deal does nothing to ultimately reform the overall structure of oppression currently in place in Cuba.
RIDING WITH FIDEL: CONSUELO DE LA CAMPA by Katarina Hall
One day Consuelo received a disturbing letter from her parents, asking her to go back to Cuba. They feared it was the last time the family could be together – her brothers had been arrested by Fidel’s government and some of her father’s land had been taken away. She spent 5 months in Cuba – the last time she would ever be in her native country.
MUGGED BY REALITY: LUISA AND RAMON by Katarina Hall
As a young woman, Luisa protested against Fulgencio Batista and the regime he imposed on Cuba. She was even arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest against Batista’s government in 1957. Then a young Cuban revolutionary named Fidel Castro showed up as the hero who would end Batista’s corruption. Luisa and the rest of her family supported Fidel, and were anxious for the changes he promised to bring. But soon after the Revolution Luisa realized that the situation in the island was not any better than it was under Batista. Indeed, in three years Cuba was almost unrecognizable, but the changes were not for the better.
5 REASONS CHE’S NOT COOL by Brooke Winn
It’s not uncommon to see Che Guevara t-shirts worn proudly across the world. His portrait is one of the most iconic in history and the most reproduced image in the history of photography. Unfortunately, many are not educated about the true nature of the Cuban Revolution, much less Che’s part in it. Despite its claimed goals of liberty and social justice, the Cuban Revolution was instead marked most of all by violence and strife. But in typical communist fashion, the regime in Havana has mixed propaganda and violence to portray a romantic image of this revolutionary criminal.