The Shattered Mirror: Democracy and Despotism on Both Sides of the Florida Straits, 2021 (Part II)

By Luis Martínez-Fernández

July 24, 2021 5 min read

Historically, the United States and Cuba have shared, as former President William McKinley once said, "ties of singular intimacy"; ties ranging from amity and hardy alliance — think World War II (Cuba declared war on Japan two days after Pearl Harbor) — to spasms of deep hostility that peaked during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis the following year.

Whatever the case, Cuba and the United States are bound by an intractable geographic reality, the proverbial 90 miles; and since the start of the Cuban Revolution both have tensely coexisted like a couple forced to live under the same roof after a nasty divorce.

As a Cuban-born author who lives in Florida and writes about Cuba, my heart, brain and pen are split along both sides of the Florida Straits. And as a defender of freedom and democracy, I wholeheartedly support pro-democracy movements on the island and, by the same token, am concerned about efforts to weaken democracy in Florida and the other 50 states.

Despite its utter failure in Cuba and imperfect success in the United States, the pursuit of freedom and democracy are foundational values shared by both peoples. The father of the Cuban "patria" (fatherland) Jose Marti ranks among the hemisphere's most important and influential freedom fighters and proponents of democratic rule and racial equality. Everyone should read his books, especially "Our America."

In more ways than one, the United States and Cuba are mirror images. Take the U.S. Capitol and its younger counterpart in Havana; while not identical, they are very similar. Guess which one is larger. It's Havana's — one meter longer, one meter wider and one meter taller.

In the past six months. both capitals have been scenes of the global conflict between democracy and despotism. What happened in and around the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 should be evident to all who watched the carnage on TV; there are, nonetheless, insurrection deniers who claim the rioters were antifa militants and who liken the Capitol's violent capture to a routine tourist excursion.

As soon as Washington police forces removed the pro-Trump mob from the Capitol premises, barricades went up to defend America's most iconic democratic symbol from further attacks. Six months later, all the fences and barricades came down; on the same weekend, Cuban police forces erected barricades of their own around the taller Capitol, where several hundred Cuban citizens had gathered to peacefully protest the 62-year-old dictatorial regime.

Instead of demanding the end of the violent assault, which he incited, Trump praised the mob as patriotic. He had harangued his supporters — or were they antifa forces in pro-Trump costumes? — to disrupt the democratic process and obstruct the peaceful transition of power.

When on July 11 and over the next few days, thousands of Cubans took to the streets, Trump's tropical counterpart President Miguel Diaz-Canel did something similar. He ordered state-organized bands of civilian thugs to harass, beat and help arrest the demonstrators. Diaz-Canel, mark my words, will regret his infamous July 12 televised harangue: "The order to fight has been given — into the street, revolutionaries!" This was an unprecedented call for civil war.

Curiously, none other than Che Guevara's daughter, Aleida, dismissed protesters as "low-class people" and blamed the unrest on the U.S. embargo. Wait a minute Ms. Guevara, I thought Cuba was a classless society. Let me remind you of the actions and words of your martyred father. Whether one admires, hates or is neutral about El Che, it is a fact that he worked (even manual labor) shoulder-to-shoulder with the humblest of Cubans. And regarding the embargo, in 1963, he rejected it as a valid excuse: "Our difficulties spring principally from our errors."

More shards of the broken mirror in next week's column.

Luis Martinez-Fernandez is author of "Revolutionary Cuba: A History." Readers can reach him at [email protected] To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www. creators.com.

Photo credit: Falkenpost at Pixabay

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