Talking Points

Cubans reach their tipping point

Are Cubans protesting against a repressive Communist government? Or are they angry about bad governance that makes their everyday lives worse? Why not both?

The streets of Cuban cities on Sunday were filled with anti-government protesters, many of them bearing American flags and shouting out cries for freedom — the biggest demonstrations against the Communist regime since at least 1994. Media reports have depicted the movement as a response to pandemic-era deprivations, such as a shortage of food and vaccines, the result of a collapse in tourism dollars that has hurt an already-poor nation. A Biden administration spokesperson characterized the protests as reflecting "concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages."

That, naturally, drew a rebuke from American conservatives.

"People in #Cuba are protesting 62 years of socialism, lies, tyranny & misery," tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), "not 'expressing concern about rising COVID cases/deaths.'"

But it's not an either/or situation. If it's true that Cubans are protesting six decades of Communist government, it's also the case that they have endured that situation for six decades. So there had to have been a tipping point to prompt the new uprising. As our own Declaration of Independence says, people will suffer bad governments "while evils are sufferable." It's when those evils become insufferable that the citizens rouse themselves in protest.

And life in Cuba has become insufferable since the start of the pandemic, as it has in many parts of the world. Governments that handled the pandemic well — like in New Zealand — have remained popular. Governments that did a poor job, meanwhile, have often faced a loss of support. Cuba's government, which has survived for decades by casting the United States as the source of its problems, falls in the latter category. Since last October, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted more than 500 Cubans trying to flee the country by sea, compared to just 49 the year before.

"We can't take it anymore," a man named Alejandro told the BBC. "There is no food, there is no medicine, there is no freedom. They do not let us live. We are already tired."

People want freedom — but mostly they'll revolt when bad governance threatens their health and lives. Either way, it's clear Cuba's Communist government is in trouble.