A Specter and its Shadow: Civil Disobedience in Cuba and Hong Kong

Ryan DeLarme,
August 16th, 2021

The difference between the communist system and the capitalist one is that both kick you in the ass, but in the communist one they kick you and you have to applaud, while in the capitalist one they kick you and you can scream. I came here to scream.

Reinaldo Arenas, Antes Que Anochezca

It’s easy to understand why people are emotionally drawn to the ideals of Communism, Socialism, or what we perceive as the intentions of “the left”, because they at least seem to draw their fundamental motivational source from a place of compassion. Today, well-meaning young Americans see socialism as a chic new system, promising equality and fairness. These are admirable things to want for the world. The unfortunate truth is that this game is not new, it’s more than 100 years old, and whether it’s the rigid, murderous version of socialism put in place by the Soviet Union, or today’s nightmare scenarios in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and North Korea, it’s an idea that has never delivered equality, more opportunity, or better lives.

To me, there’s nothing wrong with wanting everything provided for everyone, though obviously some conservatives would disagree. The real reason we can’t have nice things isn’t because these economic systems don’t allow for it, it’s because some of the 3-5% of the population who exhibit sociopathic tendencies have long exploited the compassion that is present in most human beings. In short, all the good intentions in the world will equate to nothing when there are maniacs at the wheel. 

Another glaring problem with this everlasting argument is that young people, myself included, tend to know very little about American history, in particular, the history of the radical left. How would we know? It feels eerily by design that we were never really taught about it, so why would we be concerned? It’s not mind boggling that some would yearn for something besides an economic system in which businesses thrive not as a result of free enterprise (as originally intended), but rather as a return on money amassed through collusion between the business class and the political class. What I just described is called “crony capitalism” and it can certainly be seen as a negatively polarized usage of the free market system. 

Communism and Socialism however, despite the utopian light they are painted in, have historically been the source of untold death and suffering. The trauma that ALL of these systems have inflicted globally still haunts large portions of the human family. Here in the first world, we cry about crony capitalism (which has caused great suffering in more subtle ways) but we are at least still free to denounce a system that, for the time being, allows us the freedom to have a dissenting opinion. 

Like many, I’ve wondered about potential socialist utopias; ways it could go right assuming you somehow had pure altruists controlling the state. But it’s hard to envision positive socialist futures when all we have to draw from in the past are the nightmares of Nazi Germany, Mao’s China, the Marxism-Leninism of the Soviet Union, and Maduro’s Venezuela.  We can, however, learn much about modern socialism/communism, so long as we are willing, from the nearby island nation of Cuba. 

Cuba

Cuba’s history has always been deeply intertwined with America’s. It was one of the last of the Spanish colonies in the Americas to declare independence, not actually becoming a Republic until 1902. Cuba enjoyed real freedom for roughly half a century, many consider this time period to be Cuba’s golden age. By and large, Cuba enjoyed a high standard of living for a long time, so much so that people were actually immigrating from Spain to Cuba. The 1950’s saw Cuba’s first dictatorship by a man named Fugencio Batista (who is rumored to have been backed by members of our own military industrial complex).

Cuba eventually underwent a “revolution” and was labeled a soviet satellite state in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. What was propped up as a revolution, was simply a new brand of dictatorship devouring the old. Around this time the appearance of Cubans escaping in boats became a common sight off the coast of Florida.

Fidel Castro ruled uncontested for decades and was eventually replaced by the kinder face of Raul Castro, whose reign lasted until Donald Trump was approximately halfway through his time in office. Some had hoped that once the Castro regime ended, everything would revert back to the glory days of half a century prior. This hope was unfortunately a naive fairy tail.

The Cuban State is a monolithic system, and it did not just go away once the seat of power was vacated. Now that Cuba has one Miguel Diaz Canal at the wheel, who rose through the communist party ranks and assumed the position as the Cuban Head of State, business continues as usual.

Let’s dive into the reality of what has been touted as a “very successful socialst experiment”.

 Very little exists outside of the state in Cuba, especially in the business sector. There’s a little bit of free enterprise here and there; some sole proprietors and Air Bnb’s, but aside from that everything else is run by the state, forcing Cubans to make their money abroad. Cubans do not have their own private checking accounts and most of the business has been nationalized. In the words of a Cuban immigrant: 

“The Image you have of North Korea is not far off from the State of Cuba.”

A young Cuban-American girl recently took to TikTok and shared her truth on the state of Cuba. She claimed that there are no coffins, that when somebody dies in Cuba they wrap them in a sheet and take note then leave the body to whomever they can find to claim it. In some cases, bodies would simply be tossed into backyards and left to decompose naturally in the Caribbean heat. She claims that electricity and water are cut as soon as the sun goes down each night and that if you dare to speak ill of the Communist party you run the risk of becoming a desaparecido (missing person by way of political suppression). Despite all that looming danger, the people have finally reached a boiling point and are actively protesting against their failed government.

How did these protests start?

According to Cuban American Author and entrepreneur Antonio Garcia-Martinez, the whole thing began when a bunch of disgruntled citizens decided to start yelling at a Communist Party headquarters. The protestors were apparently chanting pro-freedom sentiments and criticizing the State while waving American flags. According to actual Cuban citizens, there are a multitude of reasons for the current public uprising, but the mainstream media would have us believe the unrest is solely due to the people’s desire for better access to COVID pokes. Cuba has had a pretty rough economic situation for a long time, but the human rights violations were what pushed the general public over the edge. Despite their often praised healthcare system, poor access to medical treatment has been a symptom of the root problem, for the Cuban Government.

 The people of Cuba are starting to mobilize for the first time in decades, the last time there were coordinated major demonstrations like this was nearly 30 years ago in 1994. When videos of the original protest began surfacing across the internet others were inspired to take action. It must have dawned on the State that allowing the citizens to continue having access to the internet was going to be a problem, so they did what any single party dictatorship worth their salt would do. They cut the internet, creating what in military jargon is called a communications blackout.

Sounds shocking, right? Consider this, it wasn’t actually until about 2008 that Cubans were even allowed to own cell phones, in fact, you could go to jail just for having one in your possession. Eventually smartphones were permitted, but the internet works a little differently in Cuba. The kind of connection we enjoy here in America doesn’t really exist in Cuba; there are no private internet providers, the State has the monopoly. To access the internet you can either go to these public access areas (which tend to be expensive and the quality of connection is quite poor) or you can buy the popular but illegal el Paquete, which is the equivalent of putting a weeks worth of news, music, videos, etc on USB drives and selling them. In essence it’s like viewing a tiny curated portion of the internet without actually being online. This will cost you 5 CUC (Cuban convertible peso) which in Cuba’s economy takes up a big chunk of the average citizen’s weekly earnings.

Back to the protests, which seemed to pop up, get heated, and then disappear just as suddenly as they came…  at least from our first world perspective. The truth is that the protests are still ongoing, our Media has simply stopped reporting on them. Another factor that had a major damping effect was the State starting to really crack down on the protestors, making arrests and even firing people from their jobs. Is any of this starting to sound familiar? On top of all that, the regime has the ability to just shut off the internet, one of the benefits of having everything centralized and controlled by the State.

Then you have BLM; one of several Marxist proxy armies, unironically blasting the United States for what’s happening in Cuba while completely ignoring the failed communist state they seem to love so much. Lest there be any doubt remaining that the Black Lives Matter crew has nothing to do with actual racial justice in America, look no further than their reaction to Cuba’s protests. The group put out a statement, not to condemn the authoritarian regime in Cuba for violently suppressing its people, but to berate the United States for its long-existing sanctions on the Communist state.

“Black Lives Matter condemns the U.S. federal government’s inhumane treatment of Cubans, and urges it to immediately lift the economic embargo,” 

BLM said.() 

“This cruel and inhumane policy, instituted with the explicit intention of destabilizing the country and undermining Cubans’ right to choose their own government, is at the heart of Cuba’s current crisis.”

The statement is, of course, exactly backward. The US sanctions Cuba precisely because its Communist dictators prevent the Cuban people from “the right to choose their own government.”

Reporter/commentator Nicole Hannah-Jones, who authored the 1619 project and is a staff writer at the New York Times, claims that  equality in Cuba is because of socialism. Cuban American Antonio Garcia-Martinez laughs at this statement and quips, “Sure, if you make everyone poor then indeed inequality would be lower”. But even the Washington Post recently ran an article about the plight of Blacks in Cuba. Nicole Hannah-Jones and BLM are by far not the only ones singing the praises of the Cuban government for their own personal benefits. In addition, the likes of Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson-Lee have previously praised the Castro regime. 

The usual pop-culture politicians like Bernie Sanders and AOC hail Cuba as a highly successful example of the “socialist experiment”, citing their amazing healthcare system and literacy program. Apparently the healthcare system isn’t as great as touted since that is one of the many things the protestors are criticizing, and as far as the literacy program being a  great socialist achievement, Antonio Garcia-Martinez claims that Cuba has had a higher literacy rate since well before the revolution. 

The rhetoric coming from BLM and the left is that Trump’s trade embargo is the sole cause for all of the troubles in Cuba, this is actually just simple propaganda, but let’s go there for a moment. According to Antonio Garcia-Martinez, virtually none of the protesters on the ground have mentioned nor seem to care about the embargo. Cuba can trade freely with the rest of the world and avoiding trade with the US isn’t considered some new catastrophic thing, but for a short period during the Obama era, this has been standard Cuban/US relations.

Of course, you see the shameless partisan hacks in DC virtue signaling and “standing in solidarity” with the Cuban people by acting to remove the embargo, an embargo that was placed specifically to hinder the very same communist party the Cuban people are now actively protesting against. If you wanted to actually “Stand in Solidarity” and not just stand on the backs of a silenced and oppressed people, then you would try to bring more awareness to the human rights violations instead of warping a tragedy to fit your agenda. While Cuban Americans may claim that changing the Embargo isn’t going to do very much for the people,  it would, however, greatly benefit the State.

How long can these first-world pundits use Cuba as a shining example of a socialist experiment when you can now see (for the moment) videos of Cubans being beaten and arrested in the streets for dissention? Hundreds of Cubans are facing charges of inciting unrest, their families are worried about trials being held without due process, and a lot of these protestors (mostly young people) cannot get independent defense lawyers. The Communist party has released Rapid Reaction Brigades to police and squash all dissent, and while these brigades are carrying out actual government sanctioned police brutality, BLM doesn’t bat an eye because it’s such a “successful Socialist experiment”.

 Suffice to say that the Cuban government is not the biggest advocate for open communication. In a nation where the government limits internet access to control the flow of information, there is no telling how much deeper the abuses run. Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel openly called for violence when instructing his followers that “the order to combat has been given. Revolutionaries need to be on the streets.” Should the pro-freedom protesters escape a beatdown by unruly communists, they certainly cannot expect fair treatment, competent media exposure, and a trial by a jury once they have been arrested. Yet, they do what they can to make their voices heard just the same. 

Many Americans believe the pro-freedom uprising in Cuba is a microcosm of everything we see happening in America today. As politicians and bureaucrats seek to tighten their grip on power, the everyday joe schmoes are stepping up to make their voices heard. Pockets of concerned citizens are fighting back against the onslaught of socialism as it covertly wraps its slimy tendrils around what’s left of the foundations of our constitutional Republic. 

What can we do to help, both short term and long term, outside of self-aggrandizing social media posts? 

There are documents circulating on the internet that list the names and details surrounding the growing number of desaparecidos, keeping the data centralized and alive. Continuing to share this sort of content keeps the reality fresh in the minds of those who care and is another example of how internet access has shaken things up in Cuba. Ron Desantis, the Governor of Florida, has written an open letter to the Biden Administration saying that the federal government should help restore internet access to the people of Cuba. FCC commissioner Brenden Carr echoed this sentiment and explained how we have the technology to easily override this. The internet, open communication, and freedom of speech are the most disruptful things that exist in a single party dictatorship, so I believe enabling those three things is key.

Loon LLC, which exists under Sergey Brin’s big-tech umbrella company Alphabet, once used balloons to get WIFI to Puerto Rico when they were going through Hurricane Maria. It sounds wacky but a lot of different private companies have R&D teams working on new ways to transmit WIFI long distance. Facebook was working on a way to use satellites to beam internet all across the planet, but these supposedly “woke” tech companies would have to actually choose to do this, which will hopefully happen as soon as it benefits them to do so. These are all things that will help but will require compliance of big business and big tech. We can, at the very least, continue to apply pressure and keep the fight alive by writing letters and joining demonstrations here on US soil to raise awareness.

Why Should Americans even care?

What is happening in Cuba is a symptom of a many decades long push for a global centralized government. If Americans care about freedom and democracy at home and abroad then they should care about the 10 million people living under the yolk of Communism just 90 miles away from US territory. There’s a huge Cuban exile community in Florida who take voting far more seriously than your average young American, and from a strictly political standpoint, people in power should want to help for that reason alone. The real big one though, the crown reason for wanting to help the Cuban people, is simply because it is the right thing to do. I personally cannot imagine an argument where anyone could successfully defend why the Cuban people shouldn’t have free access to the internet and the freedom of open communication with the rest of the world.

The perfectly timed flood of immigrants across the southern border into blue states and federally funded sanctuary cities, creating an easily launderable multi-billion dollar racket is all fine and good, yet the DHS director under Joe Biden recently decided that he didn’t want Cubans coming over. It’s as if they’re saying “Oh, we only want these immigrants over here that benefit us, not those immigrants”.

Despite the poor treatment from the current administration, the Cuban people still wave the American flag and call for freedom. Regardless of whoever is in office at the time, our flag stands for what America could and should be. To those who have been conditioned to hate the country they live in and are the stewards of, I invite you to try living in Cuba for a while.

Hong Kong

A lot of westerners don’t realize that Britain controlled Hong Kong for over a hundred and fifty years, besides a brief Japanese occupation during the second world war, and did not fully return to Chinese rule until 1997. It was ceded to Britain after the First Opium War, becoming a British colony or territory. It wasn’t until the 1970’s and 1980’s that conversations even began between the Chinese and the British over the future of Hong Kong.

 The agreement made in 1997 was that Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain the high degree of autonomy it had enjoyed while under British rule, with all the freedom and basic rights that people in mainland China could only dream of, though Hong Kong would once again belong to China. The agreement stated that for 50 years things would remain unchanged in Hong Kong, this was ratified by the UN and supported by the US. Fifty years of democratic life, 50 years of autonomy. The relevant slogan was “One country, two systems.” Hong Kong would be the little exception in vast, Communist-ruled China. Today, however, the Joint Declaration, which was meant to protect the freedoms and autonomy of Hong Kong, has been eroded, broken, and is worth less than the paper it was printed on.

To be fair, a lot of folks were skeptical from the beginning that a single country could maintain two separate systems, especially when one system is communist and the other is to be pseudo-democratic, free-market capitalist. Actually, Hong Kong was never fully democratic. From 1982 to 1997, Hong Kong went from having no form of elected government to having a fully elected Legislative Council (though not entirely by geographical constituencies). Under Chinese sovereignty after the 1st of July 1997, Hong Kong had regressed to its pre-democracy days as a result of  establishing  appointed provisional bodies in place of the elected ones. 

There was still freedom of the Press, freedom of speech, freedom to a fair trial, and the freedom of assembly… all of which ran quite contrary to mainland China. These factors, which largely lead to Hong Kong becoming a prime financial hub for international business, are nonexistent today. Hong Kong is actually an unprecedented situation, never before have we seen a city or state (of 7 million+ people) have their rights stripped away in such a remarkably short period of time. Hong Kong was promised 50 years of autonomy and received less than half of that.

Vivian Wang and Alexandra Stevenson of the New York Times filed a dispatch from Hong Kong in June of 2021. The subheading for their dispatch read, “Neighbors are urged to report on one another. Children are taught to look for traitors. Officials are pressed to pledge their loyalty.” Here was one detail, among many — not the most horrifying by a long shot, but striking all the same: 

“Police officers have been trained to goose-step in the Chinese military fashion, replacing decades of British-style marching.”

 If you are unfamiliar with the goose step, take a quick detour to IMG search in your preferred search engines to really get the full ambiance of the picture they’re trying to paint.

The pro-democracy movement is a political camp in Hong Kong that supports increased democracy, namely the universal suffrage of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council as given by the Hong Kong Basic Law under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. The movement has been around since before the 1997 handover and typically receives about 55-60% of the vote in each election. The pro-democracy activists emerged from the youth movements in the 1970s and began to take part in electoral politics as the colonial government introduced representative democracy in the mid 1980s. Samuel Chu, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, has been a part of the movement for years and has seen firsthand how China has crippled the movement. 

“The pro-democracy movement has been so central and vital for the 30+ years in Hong Kong, (it is) a movement that my father was a leader in, a movement that I have participated in for years, and now, today, all of those leaders of the pro-democracy movement are either in jail, under house arrest, living in exile, or just stripped of their rights to speak out.”

-Samuel Chu

So how did this happen? China was supposed to give Hong Kong 50 years of autonomy but little by little the CCP began seizing more and more control. There wasn’t much that the people could do about it, when China wants to control something it’s going to control it, and the country is historically unapologetic about its’ strong-arm tactics.

Within the aforementioned 50 year deal, it was promised that steps would be taken to ensure universal voting rights to its citizens by 2010. There was an unease among people in the movement as to whether or not even the status quo would remain intact for very long, let alone if China would allow all of Hong Kong’s citizens the right to elect their own Chief Executive and Legislative Council. Instead, by 2010 China had actually reversed its stand, deciding not to go through with the promised democratization. This reversal spurred what was known as the Umbrella Movement and the Hong Kong Democracy Protests of 2014. These protests would prove to be the largest act of civil disobedience in Hong Kong’s history up to that point.

Hong Kong Protests

In the fall of 2014, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets. For 79 days they took over the financial district and made their discontent known, claiming China had broken its promise to the people. China responded by explaining that to them the agreement was no more than a historic document and was worth nothing. Many members of the Pro Democracy movement were prosecuted for the peaceful protest in 2014, by the time they were sentenced in 2018 China had proposed a new law giving the CCP the ability to extradite Hong Kong citizens to the mainland to be tried in what is thought of as a highly corrupt and unfair Judicial System.

This is what led to the rise of the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement and their subsequent protests in 2019. Two million Hong Kongers once again took to the streets to voice their distrust toward the CCP and to state as loudly as possible that they did not want their citizens extradited. Samuel Chu, whose father was tried in Hong Kong for organizing the peaceful protests in 2014, claims that the two-year sentence he received from the Hong Kong courts would have been for life if he had been tried on the mainland.

Since that time, in response to the protests on the ground and overseas efforts, China implemented what is called the “National Security Law”. Within this law is article 38, which clearly states that anyone, anywhere, whether or not they be a Hong Kong or Chinese citizen, can be charged under the National Security law for saying or doing anything deemed threatening to the CCP Samuel Chu is no stranger to article 38. Even though he has been an American citizen since 1996 and is really only guilty of advocating for Basic Law in Hong Kong, he has still found himself on a list of fugitives wanted by the CCP.

Some may recall the arrest of free-press advocate Jimmy Lai, which proved that even the head of a multi-million dollar company could not stand against the Chinese Communist Party. Jimmy Lai had been overtly vocal about the CCP’s dealings worldwide, slamming the Catholic Church for signing a treaty or “Provisional Agreement” with the CCP to further the parties control over religious freedoms, and slammed Joe Biden prior to the election for kowtowing to party leader Xi Jingping. It didn’t take long for the CCP to completely annihilate Lai’s free press.

Apple Daily was Hong Kong’s largest independent paper for over twenty years and was arguably one of the biggest critics of the CCP still in print, that is until the aforementioned National Security law was used to destroy the entire company. Apple Daily was raided twice by Hong Kong police, once on August 10, 2020 and again  June 17, 2021. These raids and subsequent freeze of capital forced the 26-year-old newspaper to close its doors in June 2021.  As for Jimmy Lai, he has been in jail since last December without any substantial convictions, and will likely remain there indefinitely. 

Despite all the slant and spin coming from Fortune 500 news outlets, this story is relevant as we see the behavior from the American mainstream media and Big-Tech platforms beginning to eerily mirror what has been commonplace in both Hong Kong and Cuba. It doesn’t bode well that we have a President who by all accounts appears to be at least in bed if not subservient to the Chinese Communist Party, and has completely neglected the plight of the Cuban people. If the systemic throttling of the free flow of information is allowed to continue unchallenged in America, chances are this type of crack down could spread worldwide.

Should the US and the UK be more active in trying to help Hong Kong?

Xi Jingping is presiding over what has been called the nastiest and most oppressive period in China’s history since Mao’s cultural revolution. Samuel Chu believes that the US and the UK, who were instrumental in working with China to draw up the foundation for Hong Kong’s short-lived autonomy, should come back to the table and help uphold the promises made to Hong Kong. In many cases concerning the average American citizen there seems to be a bipartisan desire to stand with the people of Hong Kong, but when it comes to elected officials or to those with the means to do something, the buck has been passed. 

As Human Rights Watch noted in a recent report, the Chinese government is now pressing residents to pledge public loyalty to the government in Beijing. It is turning the police and courts into “tools of Chinese state control rather than independent and impartial enforcers of the rule of law.” Candidates considered insufficiently loyal to China have been barred from running for Hong Kong’s electoral council. Academic freedom is under attack. Websites have been blocked, museums harassed, films canceled, political slogans banned, and school curriculum rewritten. Sound familiar? Rather than helping Hong Kong stop the death of democracy at the hands of a totalitarian regime, it’s starting to look as though we are copying their playbook instead.

Despite American intervention potentially being a conflict of interest for our current administration, the debate continues as to whether or not the US should do anything. Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department under George W. Bush, has voiced the stance of the western elite:

“We don’t have the luxury of building a foreign policy that is centered on promoting the rule of democracy and human rights, so our influence is limited… We can vent, but we should have no illusions that it’ll change the situation on the ground in Hong Kong. That may seem cruel, but it’s a fact of life.”

Many have interpreted this to mean that what is occurring in Hong Kong is desirable for the international foreign policy elite. Remember, this statement is coming from a man who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a globalist hotbed and arguably the most influential think-tank on the planet. 

In contrast to Richard Haas’ pessimism or complete disinterest towards the United States helping the people of Hong Kong, Samuel Chu’s argument sounds a little more optimistic. Chu claims there is actually a lot that could be done: helping fight censorship and circumvent the coming internet firewall, helping activists get out of the country when China comes after them, working to strengthen the civil society groups and pressuring businesses in Hong Kong not to go along with the repression are just a few examples. Despite Chu’s optimism, the Biden administration doesn’t seem interested in upholding the right to free speech in its own country let alone in a far off city.

It is hard to say what’s in store for America, as it stands now the general population seems to be  going for each other’s throats in a tribalist partisan pissing contest, one in which neither side would care much about a totalitarian regime in the United States, as long as their team wins. So with the figurative caution signs  sounding off all around us,  we can now see that the warnings from Cuba and Hong Kong are falling on deaf ears.  Perhaps even worse, they are being intentionally ignored.

SOURCES:

https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/07/hong-kong-snuffed-out/#slide-1

https://nypost.com/2020/07/07/chinas-security-law-for-hong-kong-aims-to-block-global-criticism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Daily_raids_and_arrests

https://www.hrw.org/feature/2021/06/25/dismantling-free-society/hong-kong-one-year-after-national-security-law

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-06-30/china-hong-kong-national-security-law

Published by Ryan DeLarme

Independent Journalist, Researcher, Creative Writer, Poet, Bum, Fool. <3's

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