Thousands of Cubans protested in the streets Sunday because of dire conditions brought about by the Caribbean nation’s communist regime. What is going on there, what will be the repercussions for protesters who have had the courage to gather in the streets, and how should the U.S. respond?

“It’s a very dark moment right now,” says Mike Gonzalez, a Cuban native who is a senior fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, the parent organization of The Daily Signal.

Gonzalez joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the situation.

“The state police is out there. They were called out by the puppet president, Miguel Díaz-Canel,” Gonzalez says. “They’re rounding up people, beating people up. I know of at least one pro-democracy priest—Castor Álvarez in the city of Camaguey in the east … of the island of Cuba—who was severely beaten up and I think stripped naked. And his whereabouts are unknown. This is from dissident sources. For all we know, Father Castor could be dead.”

We also cover these stories:

  • President Joe Biden issues a statement of support for Cubans who protested Sunday across the country.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., asks the National Security Agency’s director to investigate allegations by Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson that the NSA is spying on him. 
  • Ben Carson, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, calls out critical race theory in an interview with Fox. 

Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Mike Gonzalez. He’s a senior fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Mike, it’s great to have you with us in studio at The Heritage Foundation.

Mike Gonzalez: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks a lot for having me.

Del Guidice: Well, thanks for coming on the podcast. Mike is a veteran of “The Daily Signal Podcast,” so we appreciate having you on.

I want to talk about what’s happening in Cuba right now. There are thousands of Cubans protesting in the streets due to the dark conditions right now that the communist regime has brought about. Mike, can you bring us to speed on what is going on?

Gonzalez: Yeah, it’s a very dark moment right now. The state police is out there. They were called out by the puppet president, Miguel Díaz-Canel. They’re rounding up people, beating people up.

I know of at least one pro-democracy priest, Castor Álvarez, in the city of Camaguey in the east of Cuba, of the island of Cuba, who was severely beaten up and I think strip naked, and his whereabouts are unknown. This is from dissident sources. For all we know, Father Castor could be dead. He’s a very well-known pro-democracy voice on the island. …

So, there was a list of 57 people missing that are well-known dissidents, and probably hundreds or thousands more are missing.

Díaz-Canel, who’s really a puppet for the Castro family, which is still calling the shots in Cuba, well, this puppet figurehead president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, went on TV yesterday and called on all communists “to come out of their houses and quash the protests.” So he’s calling for bloodshed. And it’s a police state, state of terror works, unfortunately.

Del Guidice: Yeah, I actually wanted to ask you about what he was saying, calling people to basically counter the pro-freedom protesters. What is your take on this and what do you see happening with this call of him to bring out other people to quell this?

Gonzalez: Well, this is what communists do. Communists are all activists. He is saying to them, “I have my eye on you. Don’t stay in your house. Turn out, stop the demonstrators.” He called on all revolutionaries, but especially communists.

Then, which is the tired, the most tired trope of all, he blamed it on the U.S. government. He said that the U.S. was organizing this.

… First of all, for goodness sakes, the Biden administration only came out with a statement just before noon on Monday. It waited forever. The Heritage Foundation had a statement before the Biden administration had a statement. Members of the Senate had statements.

Even people on the left are criticizing [President Joe] Biden for the lateness, the paucity of the reaction. He needs to have a “tear down this wall” moment. And if he could only bring himself to do that, he would actually gain some of the popularity he’s losing every day, but he’s afraid of the left, of his own party.

“The squad,” Black Lives Matter, the Congressional Black Caucus, all of them have always supported the Castro dictatorship. The only predictable thing here is that BLM is going to come out with a statement supporting the communist government, not the people.

Del Guidice: Well, right now, Cuba is going through one of their worst economic crises in decades. Can you break down what this crisis is and how has that contributed to what’s going on right now?

Gonzalez: Well, the government has completely mishandled COVID-19. …

I had an exchange with a major journalist, it was a private exchange, I will not reveal her name, and she said to me that totalitarian governments are better equipped to deal with pandemics. No, actually, it turns out the liberal democracies with the free flow of information are better equipped at dealing with pandemics and crises.

Every time the Castro government has tried to open up the economy a little bit, it has realized it was losing control. So it steps on small enterprises. So you cannot have economic growth without enterprise. You cannot have economic growth without free markets. You only have stagnation. This is why communists never produce bread, they only produce bread lines.

So … it’s been 62 years of crisis. The Cuban economy was so successful in the first half of the 20th century that it attracted European immigrants, including my grandparents. Can you think of a European in his right mind that would immigrate to Cuba today? No. Cuba[‘s] … only product: it’s immigrants, it’s refugees, it’s utter failure. Why? Because it’s socialist. It’s Marxist. Marxism is perfect in only one thing: at failing each and every time.

Del Guidice: Fox News had reported that a lot of the protesters in the town of San Antonio de los Banos were very young people, and that they were speaking unfavorably of the Cuban president and they also were shouting they’re not afraid. What is your take on this? And especially the fact that they’re saying publicly in the streets of their country that they’re not afraid.

Gonzalez: Maybe they’re having a Poland 1984 moment. When John Paul II, the pope, went to Poland, Poles came out—I mean, it makes me sad, but also proud to say this—they looked at each other and the lost their fear. The Poles lost their fear. Within six or seven years, not only was [Poland Prime Minister Wojciech] Jaruzelski gone, the Soviet Union was gone into the dustbin of history.

If the Cubans lose their fear, then the Castro dictatorship will be gone. But we have to be very careful here. Their fear is real, and they have reason to fear. When you step out of line in Cuba, you don’t get just thrown into prison, you get thrown in a dungeon, with rats—real rats—and feces and excrement, and things will happen to your family. And before you get sent to prison, mobs will turn out to your house and stone your house, stone your family.

So this is what Díaz-Canel is calling for. The Cuban people have a well-grounded reason to be afraid. When we ask them to lose their fear, we have to understand it’s a big ask. And the courage that they have displayed yesterday, Sunday, July 11, was astonishing.

Del Guidice: You had mentioned earlier, Mike, that the Castros are still pulling the strings right now, even though the current president is not a Castro. What does this mean for Cuba, for the president right now, just given the situation that a Castro isn’t in charge, but you’re saying in theory, they still are?

Gonzalez: Well, there’s a new generation waiting to take powers. There’s Raul Castro’s son, there’s his daughter Mariela. They’re very much still in play.

Castro’s son-in-law owns [Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.], he’s the chief of GAESA, which is the military holding company that controls about 80% to 90% of the Cuban economy—we don’t have good figures for this, these are U.S. government estimates.

So the Castros are still benefiting materially from whatever takes place economically on the island, and they expect to pull the strings politically, as far as I can see. They will use every lever of state terror they want in order to maintain their hold … Because what happens if Cuba goes democratic? The future is not going to be good.

Del Guidice: Wow. Well, you had mentioned, Mike, that people who tend to go against the government are thrown in jail, they’re thrown into places with rats, and it’s a terrible situation. What do you think the repercussions will be for protesters right now on the streets who are shouting, “Not afraid”? What are they going to face?

Gonzalez: It’s very bad. I already described what happened to Father Castor. There’s 57 dissident leaders missing. Nothing good. They will stop at nothing. The situation is unpredictable.

The only thing that is predictable is that BLM will come out in support of the Castro government, that “the squad” will say nothing and will come out in support of the Castro government. That’s the only thing we can predict, and probably [Sen.] Bernie Sanders as well.

On the island, we cannot predict what will happen. The next few days will be key.

Del Guidice: You had mentioned how President Biden issued a statement very late in the game. What is your perspective of the statement? I know we talked about how late it was, but the statement itself, what do you think?

Gonzalez: It was short. Well, the fact that it was late is really important. It was short, it called the government authoritarian. No, it’s totalitarian. We have lost sight of the distinction between authoritarian governments and totalitarian governments. The Cuban government’s totalitarian. There was no word of it to be Marxist or communist.

The Biden administration, Biden, Harris, are very afraid of their left flank of their own party. That’s where all the energy is right now. So it’s like … they’re frozen in place, a deer in the headlights.

Del Guidice: What should be happening? What should Biden be doing?

Gonzalez: He should be going on TV and siding with the people of Cuba morally. He should be warning President Díaz-Canel not to banish the dissidents, not to create a flotilla of refugees. This is not the way you deal with dissent in your own country. If your people are telling you they don’t want you in power, leave power.

Del Guidice: Biden’s acting assistant secretary for U.S. Department of State Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, tweeted on Sunday, “Peaceful protests are growing in Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths and medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.”

And then Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted a reply to her and said, “No, they’re chanting ‘LIBERTAD.’ Stop playing cover for communists and support the Cuban people. My God. Why is that so hard for you?”

Gonzalez: That was such an embarrassing tweet by Assistant Secretary Chung. The most charitable thing we can say about it is that she misread the room.

Del Guidice: Good call. Last question, Mike, I know you have to go soon. What is your perspective on the next generation? Is the next generation in Cuba waking up?

Gonzalez: Well, I’m very heartened to hear that it’s young people screaming, “We have lost our fear.” Again, it’s very easy from our air-conditioned offices in the Washington, D.C., area to call on the Cuban people to lose their fear. They have a real reason to be afraid.

For 62 years they have been oppressed. The least we can do is give them moral support. Biden can galvanize moral support. He can have his “tear down this wall” moment. I don’t think he will. He’s not capable of it. And I think he’s too afraid of the left flank of his own party. I hope that I am wrong.

Del Guidice: Well, Mike, thank you for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” It’s always great having you with us.

Gonzalez: Thank you very much.

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