Cubans who were shot at want the right to be

For the first time in 62 years of dictatorship, Cubans are, indeed, no longer afraid.

And thousands showed the world Sunday that they’re willing to risk their lives to protest, speak up, and stand up to “president” Miguel Diaz-Canel’s brutal brand of post-Castro Communist dictatorship.

Diaz-Canel’s reign since Raúl Castro installed him as president in 2019 has been characterized by unrelenting repression against writers, rappers and other artists, mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and failure to deliver on the most basic needs.

As a Cuban protester shouted: “You keep building hotels for tourists while we starve.”

"Freedom!" Thousands of Cubans take to the streets to demand the end of dictatorship.

The Cuban president answered the unprecedented protests by authorizing police shootings on unarmed civilians — and, in his words, “summoning all the revolutionaries and all the communists” all over Cuba to confront the demonstrators.

A new low

Openly instigating Cuban-on-Cuban violence is a new low — even for a leader caught on video at the onset of his rule boasting that he could care less about international condemnation of his repressive methods.

Under the cloak of night into Sunday and in the light of day Monday, Cuban police and special ops moved into neighborhoods all over the island, at times shooting at homes and at ordinary people staging protests across Cuba, from Havana to Guantánamo.

The unprecedented rebellion — thousands of Cubans taking to the streets chanting “Freedom!”

“We’re no longer afraid!” — and the brutal response of Diaz-Canel calling for Cuban-against-Cuban combat has been captured on dozens of videos.

A man holding up a bloodied Cuban flag in a Havana neighborhood, shots ringing in the background, says it all.

No longer afraid

After a day of silence, in which Cuban diplomats took to Twitter echoing Diaz-Canel in blaming the unrest on the United States, President Joe Biden released a statement early Monday morning making it clear he stood with the Cuban people.

But he didn’t go any further. “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said.

“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights,” he added. “Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

Will this be enough? Not by a long shot, but it’s a pointed departure for a new Biden policy toward Cuba that avoids the shortcomings of the last two administrations.

Discontent in Cuba has been brewing for years since President Barack Obama’s detente effort fell apart after the still unresolved attacks on American and Canadian diplomatic personnel. What will Biden do about Cuba remains to be seen.

For now, the world’s spotlight needs to remain where it belongs, on the Cuban people and their courageous fight for freedom.

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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