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Are the Cuban people discontented? They are and ought to be.

No group of people — Americans, Germans, Iranians or Cubans — wants to live with the government’s boot on their necks.

So while the spontaneous and widespread outbreak of protests in Cuba came as a surprise, the widespread unhappiness and resentment that drove it is an open secret.

People may feel hopeless against authoritarian rule, but they will never make their peace with it. Eventually, when they feel they have little to nothing to lose, they will speak out in a collective manner for an end to oppression and the beginnings of liberty.

What’s happening in Cuba is just the latest demonstration of all people’s instincts to be free to make their own decisions about their own lives.

That’s been largely forbidden in Cuba since communist dictator Fidel Castro took over. The tiny island is not so much a country as it is one of the world’s largest prisons.

Some naive people may prattle on about Cuba’s educational or medical systems. But it is now and always has been a brutal authoritarian regime where political elites live well and ordinary people scrape out a meager existence.

So the question is not so much why the Cuban people are unhappy but what will be the result of it.

President Joe Biden, among others, was quick to speak out in support of the Cuban people. He called the protests a “clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering.”

But it will take more than supportive rhetoric to create meaningful change.

The top priority of all authoritarian governments is to maintain their power by any means necessary. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the successor to the Castro brothers, drove that point home with his ruthless response to the protests that included mass beatings and arrests.

Brutality can quell protests.

The mullahs of Iran have repeatedly and energetically crushed dissidents. The Chinese government showed by its actions in Tiananmen Square that it will kill as many people as necessary to crush a nascent movement for democratic self-rule.

Will the Cuban military and police be as willing to brutalize their own people as the Iranians and Chinese were to crush and kill their fellow citizens?

There’s nothing worth preserving in Cuba’s miserable status quo. The Castro brothers had a certain revolutionary cachet, one ruthlessly maintained. But their current president is just another tinpot dictator of a poverty-stricken country.

That being the case, the U.S. should do what it can in terms of diplomatic and economic pressure to support those who yearn to be free.

Ultimately, of course, it’s up to the people of Cuba to bring about the demise of their authoritarian rulers. That’s a tough slog, but it’s happened before and could happen again.

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