Conservatives in the US want the Cuban people to overthrow their own government—or else

Republican politicians want to keep Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list unless Cubans “transition away from the Castro regime”

March 29, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Children part of the youth organization José Martí Pioneers volunteer to watch the Cuban polls during the November 2022 municipal elections.

On March 28, just two days after Cuba held national elections, conservatives in the US Congress successfully pushed through legislation in the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that would codify into law Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The “Fighting Oppression until the Reign of Castro Ends Act” (FORCE Act) was introduced by Representative Maria Salazar, a conservative and daughter of Cuban exiles from Miami. A Senate version of this bill has been introduced by Senators Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Within the next few weeks, the entire House of Representatives will vote on the bill.

Cuba was included in the highly-politicized US State Sponsors of Terrorism List in January 2021, during the ultra-conservative Donald Trump presidency. This designation has wreaked havoc on the lives of the Cuban people, as many companies and financial institutions in other nations refuse to do business with Cuba for fear of retaliation by the US. As a result, Cuba continues to suffer shortages in raw materials and the daily necessities of life such as medicine and fuel. Right now, Biden can remove Cuba from this list with a stroke of his pen. If passed, Salazar’s bill will make removal nearly impossible.

Salazar’s bill would prohibit Cuba from being removed under the State Sponsors of Terrorism list unless the nation meets three impossible criteria: “release all political prisoners and allow for investigations of Cuban prisons by appropriate international human rights organizations,” “transition away from the Castro regime to a system that guarantees the rights of the Cuban people to express themselves freely,” and “commit to holding free and fair elections.”

Essentially, Salazar is demanding that the Cuban people overthrow their own government and overturn the Cuban political system which has been built by the people and for the people over the last 60 years. The triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959 brought significant gains in healthcare, social rights, and the material conditions of Cuban people in general. Pre-revolutionary conditions included high infant mortality, 60% literacy, diseases of poverty, and sexual exploitation and trafficking

Representative Carlos Giménez of Florida, a supporter of the FORCE Act, denounced Cuba for “harboring fugitives of the American justice system and for unlawfully sentencing thousands of political prisoners in kangaroo courts in the aftermath of the July 11th, 2021 Movement.” Yet, the United States has been lambasted for decades for it’s detention and torture of various political prisoners, many of whom are part of the Black liberation struggle. Cuba provided asylum to one of those prisoners, Assata Shakur, a Black liberation fighter who was captured and nearly killed by US police. To this day, the US government, furious at her successful escape, demands her extradition.

Salazar’s implication that Cubans cannot “express themselves freely” goes against the experiences of many on the island, especially as the nation recently passed the world’s most progressive Family Code, paving the way for the rights of LGBTQ, elderly, and disabled people, as well as women and children. The Cuban people did not merely vote for the new code, they had a key role in creating it through the popular consultation process. 

One central accusation of the FORCE Act is that Cuba does not already hold “free and fair elections.” Cuba held national elections on March 26, and over 75% of the eligible population turned out to vote. An impressive feat in any context, especially as the turnout for the last US presidential election was 66.2%, which was considered a record accomplishment. And yet, US mainstream media coverage of the Cuban elections highlighted only the voter abstention of 25%, despite the fact that there was higher turnout than the previous two years as the pandemic took a toll on voter turnout.

Criticisms of the Cuban electoral process that originate from Washington or Miami often point to the lack of campaigning or the fact that candidates run unopposed, as well as claims that the Communist Party dominates the political system. However, the cycle of endless campaigning in the United States often ensures that only those with the most disposable income succeed by projecting their message as loudly as money will permit. “Money in politics” has become a hot button issue in the US, with progressives such as Bernie Sanders launching initiatives against the blatant inequality inherent in the campaign cycles. 

Candidates run unopposed during only the final part of the electoral process, but they are initially nominated from the communities they originate from, or from grassroots organizations of women, peasants, workers, and others. “That is the success of our vote,” Lázara Vivian Urrutia Nápoles, general secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women’s Bloc of District 80 Playa, told Peoples Dispatch during the municipal elections of November 2022. “Precisely the unity that is chosen from the base, from the community.” In other words, Cuban people do not simply vote in candidates at the very last part of the electoral process, like in the US. Cubans are involved in the electoral system from the very beginning through community and organizational nominations of candidates.

Voters can be as young as 16 and candidates themselves can be as young as 18. Candidates do not have to belong to the Communist Party. Once elected, members of the National Assembly do not receive a salary for their work as political officials, they must continue their daily lives as workers, alongside the rest of the Cuban population.

This year saw record diversity in candidates, with the highest number of Black people, women, and young people running in Cuban history. Most of the candidates are women, and 98 out of 470 are under 35. “Since Moncada, [Cuban revolutionaries] empowered [women], and that is why we have so many women today nominated in all spheres of the Revolution. In all the economy of the country, women are present,” said Nápoles. “The Revolution has always taken into account children and youth, and it is the youth that really leads all the processes or the continuity of the processes we have.”

A campaign has been launched by US peace groups to call on elected officials to oppose the FORCE Act.