Ninety miles south of the U.S., lies an island once regarded by the Spanish conquistadores as “la isla más hermosa que ojos humanos vieron” (the most beautiful island ever seen by human eyes). That beautiful island has lived a devastating history under a Communist regime that has been in power since 1959, making it a victim of a failed experiment.
Communism vowed equality and prosperity for all. Instead, Cubans have lived under dismal economic conditions that have created not only food insecurity but Third World living conditions. Complete government control of personal lives, media, business, education and political avenues has rendered change unattainable.
It seems that fear has kept Cuban people powerless to transform their destiny. Their only hope has been to flee the homeland, leaving behind those not able to escape. There have been isolated anti-government demonstrations in the past, but most have usually had an unhappy ending for those involved: prison, death, disappearances. A surge in COVID-19, a low rate of vaccination (15 percent), insufficient medications, lack of electricity (from 12 hours per day to no lights for three days) and unstable internet service has made the Cuban experience come head-to-head with its failed government.
Hunger has been a historical catalyst for change in governments. From the French Revolution in the 18th century to the 20th-century upheavals in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South and Central America, hunger has demonstrably been a significant mechanism to topple governments. Cubans on the island are starving, causing them to publicly admit the fact.
One recent example is Yomil, a Reggaeton star, who acknowledged in a tweet that “we are so hungry, we ate our fear.” To the chants of “We are not afraid” and “Down with the dictatorship,” over 10,000 Cubans throughout the island are taking to the streets to protest their circumstances.
The story is gaining traction internationally. President Joe Biden, although not hinting at any policy change, expressed support for the insurgents: “We stand for the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom.” This uprising may not be the end to the long history of abuse and neglect, or to the outrageous assault of Cubans’ human rights, but it certainly feels like there is a glimpse of hope that change is inevitable and that a better future for Cubans living on the island is now conceivable.