In modern-day Cuba, cars aren’t the only relic of America’s past

March 21, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle take their first steps on Cuban soil after arriving at Havana's international airport for a three-day trip, in Havana March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTSBE6D

U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle take their first steps on Cuban soil after arriving at Havana’s international airport for a three-day trip, in Havana March 20, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Each Sunday in Cuba, hundreds of Cuban citizens march from St. Rita’s Church in Havana to a nearby park, demanding amnesty for political prisoners of the Castro regime. Known as Todos Marchamos (We All March), since January 2015 they have been using the marches to protest government repression, including arbitrary arrests and detention. Week after week, government-organized mobs hurl insults at the marchers, helping the police to corral them into buses for overnight arrest.

As President Barack Obama makes his historic visit to Cuba, it’s worth noting that the Cuban marchers have something in common with the people who helped pave the way for his presidency. Like the U.S. citizens who protested racial injustice by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, the Cuban citizens are “motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described the marchers. At that time in the United States, the legislatures of southern states had maintained a series of discriminatory practices that disenfranchised African-Americans not unlike the way Cuban citizens — and blacks, in particular — are disenfranchised by the Castros’ totalitarian regime.

On March 7th, 1965, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” state troopers and deputized possemen in Selma brutally attacked the peaceful marchers with nightsticks, whips and tear gas. Alabama governor George Wallace had ordered his deputies to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march.” Seventeen marchers were hospitalized and many others treated for injuries. One of the organizers of the march, Amelia Boynton, was beaten; a photograph of her lying on the road unconscious appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world.

Worldwide television coverage of the violent repression of the marchers, and the resulting national outcry, impelled President Lyndon Johnson to ask for the passage of voting rights laws to enable African-Americans to register and vote without harassment.

Almost 44 years later, American voters elected Barack Obama, who has worked to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. But that spirit of openness has yet to have a positive impact on Cuban citizens themselves.

In fact, following Obama’s Dec. 17, 2014, initiative for a rapprochement with the Cuban government, repression has markedly increased in Cuba, with 1,141 political arrests reported in February 2016 alone. Among those routinely arrested are Berta Soler, leader of the Damas de Blanco (“Ladies in White”), which is comprised of wives, mothers and daughters of political prisoners; and Antonio Rodiles, a political activist. And like the white officials in 1960s Alabama, the Cuban government has repeatedly stated that it will not change its ways.

Based on its history of repressing dissent for the last 57 years, the Castro government will do all it can outside camera range to prevent the Todos Marchamos groups from carrying out their marches. Expect it to arrest group leaders preventively, intimidate them and restrict their movement. General Raul Castro’s forces will be smarter than Alabama officials in the 1960s — keeping their abuses off camera. But repress they will.

Many of the Cuban marchers will be Afro-Cubans, who are among the most disenfranchised members of Cuban society. Obama should keep in mind that about 80 percent of Cubans jailed in the island for political offenses are black, and most of the leaders of the Cuban opposition are black. More than 60 percent of Cubans in the island are black or mulato, yet the overwhelmingly white Cuban leadership discriminates against blacks, for example, for jobs in the tourist industry where the majority of employees are white. This deprives the black population of contact with tourists and access to foreign currency — a way out of poverty in a country where most people receive government salaries equivalent to $18 to $20 a month.

It would be appalling if an African-American president chooses to look the other way as the Cuban version of the Selma marches takes place during his visit.

7 comments

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1950’s America on a tacky backward island. I think we found a place to put Trump.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

It would be nice if we could return the island to mafia control so that they could have casinos and hookers for our congressmen again. Of curse nowadays, you’ll have to have young boys too as the GOP has a lot in the “closet”.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Oddly Air Force One didn’t touch down in Puerto Rico – our other Carribean island success story – they could sure use to see the president right about now.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

Cuba will soon be more open to commerce. This means a lot of business opportunity.

Time to invest in Cuba.

Posted by GitmoreDolluhrs | Report as abusive

Barney Frank, DEMOCRAT, would be the first little boy customer of Cuba

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

Ever wonder why this sudden love for Cuba?

It’s the fear of Russians staging their nuclear-hardware closer to US as NATO encircles Russia/China, accelerating the ruin of global-relations.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

@Mottjr wrote:

“Ever wonder why this sudden love for Cuba?
It’s the fear of Russians staging their nuclear-hardware closer to US as NATO encircles Russia/China, accelerating the ruin of global-relations.”

They have you looking in the wrong direction once again. The military option is an absolute last resort among your more sophisticated global leaders. You’re tip-of-the-spear is in maintaining the power of a global reserve curreny, which means trade deals favorable to large corporations and a host of other market manipulation techniques.
There can be no threat to the United States’ “national interests” which inextricably implies our global financial power.
What Cuba truly signifies is codified in the sanguine term emerging market. Basically there’s an opportunity to capitalize on cheap labor or resources. There’s a raft of other fairly innocuous terms bandied by diplomats and government officials that hold an entirely different connotation largely dependant on an esoteric understanding of the user. We get fed the usual; liberty, human rights, freedom, democracy, etc. televised from a state dept. or administration podium, when the true intent and policy is crafted, behind the scenes, and out of the light standard reporting.
Take a quick look at the at the old Trujilo regime in the Dominican Republic and understand the same list of interests haven’t changed, only the means by which they are achieved.

Here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-ar gentina-idUSKCN0WQ0I9
We see our president drinking champagne and dancing the tango while meeting the new president Macri, who reportedly will make whole the distressed debt fund managers, and issue more sovereign debt during his administration (they’re broke). The people don’t get to make the decision on issuing debt and usually can’t understand what happened, and why their country is broke, until they can’t buy an avacado for two months.

It’s a simple wealth transfer, and countries that eschew this paradigm fall under the crudgel of the financial markets, or worse, there is no alternative in a declining global market dominated by financial interests and saturated by underperforming investments.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive