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60th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis Finds Communist Island in Deepest Crisis Ever, Part IV

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

'QU'ILS MANGENT DE LA BRIOCHE'

There is no evidence that French Queen Marie Antoinette ever said, "Let them eat cake." And according to most sources, the original misattributed phrase mentions brioche instead of cake. But who's counting calories; be it cake or brioche (or cassava bread as in Cuba), the phrase has survived as an idiom for a privileged person or group that harbors condescending, unsympathetic attitudes toward the poor.

In the face of Cuba's generalized squalor, President Miguel Diaz-Canel and the communist ruling elite are exhibiting a let-them-eat-whatever-they-can-find stance. They are, to be sure, very well-fed, judging by pictures and videos circulating on Twitter and other social media, starting with Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz. This September, while tens of thousands of regular Cubans were going to bed hungry, the stout functionary proudly presided over the 12th Varadero Gourmet international festival. You can listen to his speech on YouTube: "What is it that we do best? Our creole cuisine"; "eating pork, tamales, congri, beans, all those things that characterize us." I can't vouch for its authenticity, but a twitter video is circulating of a party where his purported "family and cronies" appear dancing while a delicious-looking pig roasts in the background.

Scores of photographs and videos are also circulating with images of the excesses of Cuba's -- to borrow a Marxist term -- lumpen chieftains; a tropical deuxieme etat: profusely bejeweled, designer clothes-clad, gourmet-fed, limo-chauffeured and mansion-roofed. Other media uploads denounce abuses committed by repressors (esbirros), snitches (chivatos), and some Committee for the Defense of the Revolution leaders. The Cuban state has responded with a new law, effective Dec. 1, 2022, that penalizes with up to eight years in prison the act of uploading offenses against communist leaders and the "revolutionary process."

FLIGHT

As in previous crises, Cubans are fleeing their homeland in large numbers. Attempts by Cubans to escape and seek asylum in the United States have shot through the roof since 2021, breaking all previous records. Between October 2021 and September of this year, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 6,000 at sea. Another 38,000 (fiscal year 2021) and an estimated 150,000 (fiscal year 2022) have been detained while attempting to cross the Mexico-U.S. border. This year, the Cuban government stopped accepting Cuban deportees from the United States.

 

PREVIOUSLY UNIMAGINABLE DOMESTIC CHALLENGES

A new wave of Cuban protests, larger, more widespread and more militant and violent than ever before, began cresting this August, sparked by (and under the cover of) prolonged, daily blackouts aggravated by the explosion of eight large oil tanks in the province of Matanzas and damage to the electric grid caused by hurricanes in September. By Oct. 12, a total of 92 protests had been tallied. One of the largest took place in Nuevitas, Camaguey Province, on the evenings of Aug. 19 and 20, when thousands took to the streets, banging pots and pans, chanting anti-government slogans and pelting special police units' vehicles. Government forces repressed the protesters brutally, beating dozens and arresting 40, including 11-year-old Beatriz Aracelia Rodriguez Frejioo, who had been beaten by a policeman and was detained and interrogated for 12 hours. What kind of revolution is this?

Another unprecedented aspect of this wave of protests is the recourse to arson and sabotage, again under the cover of darkness. Since August, protesters have shouted "Candela! Candela!" (Fire! Fire!).

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