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History Professor Gives Context On Unrest In Cuba

Cuban Americans demonstrate outside the White House on Monday in support of protests taking place in Cuba.
Cuban Americans demonstrate outside the White House on Monday in support of protests taking place in Cuba.

TPR's Jerry Clayton recently spoke with history professor and author Dr. Jonathan Brown on the current unrest in Cuba

Jerry Clayton: Unrest in Cuba is reaching a boiling point. There have been widespread demonstrations and now the Cuban government is cracking down hard on protesters. What does the future hold for the island nation? Professor Jonathan Brown teaches history at the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of “Cuba's Revolutionary World”. He joins us today. Thanks for being here, Professor Brown.

Jonathan Brown: You're welcome.

Clayton: With the Castros out of the picture, the diplomatic back and forth of the last few U.S. administrations, plus the pandemic, what is the social, political and economic status of Cuba in 2021?

Brown: It's in a very bad place. It's suffering not only from the lack of drugs to deal with the epidemic, but they have had bad harvests, a system that doesn't work well, economic system that does not sustain the population. The other thing is that the doubling down and the restrictions that were placed upon us tourists going to Cuba under Donald Trump, all of that is taking a toll on the Cuban economy, too, and putting extra pressure on the people.

Clayton: Do you feel like today's generation of young Cubans are different from the previous generations because of social media?

Brown: Yeah, very definitely. And they're not going to enjoy that much longer because it looks like the government is going to clamp down on Facebook and other sorts of media, which people can use in order to communicate with each other. So it's in a different place than it was, say, in 1970 or even 10 years ago.

Clayton: Tell us about the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

Brown: There was a large outbreak of dissension and that ended up with the Mariel boatlift. There was widespread disenchantment. Finally, in order to relieve the pressure, Fidel Castro said that he is going to let everybody who wants to leave to leave. And he invited the Miami Cubans to send down boats and pick up refugees who want to leave Cuba. And that ended up with thousands and thousands of Cubans entering the United States. And President Carter could do nothing about it. But many of those those Cuban refugees in the Mariel boatlift were extracted by the government from psychological hospitals and also from the prisons. So many of those Cubans who arrived on the Mariel boatlift ended up in U.S. jails or U.S. institutions. And it was a terrific burden and it led to the downfall of Jimmy Carter. So this is what possibly can happen today too.

Clayton: Professor Brown, in your opinion, what do you think the Biden administration should do in regards to Cuba at this point?

Brown: If I were a member of the National Security Council, I would advise the president to bring in Senator Menendez from New Jersey, [Marco Rubio] the senator from Florida, and ask them what they suggest the United States should do because the Cubans in Miami really don't know. They say the administration should do something, but what that something is is left up in the air. I don't see that any sort of sanctions will help anything at all. I think there ought to be a compromise between the Cuban-Americans and the White House about what to do about it.

Clayton: Dr. Jonathan Brown from the University of Texas at Austin, thanks for being here with us today.

Brown: Good. Thank you very much for having me.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.