There's one thing most Cubans can agree on: the small island nation may never be the same again. "The history of Cuba will have to be rewritten after Sunday, the 11th of July," one Catholic leader said. In just nine days, more than six decades of oppression was turned on its head, as people flooded to the streets -- risking their very lives to send a message America's forefathers know well: give us liberty, no matter the cost.
"I think it's important that people understand: this is the most significant level of protest we've seen against the Cuban regime," Congressman Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) pointed out. From his vantage point, there hasn't been anything close to this level of unrest since Fidel Castro overthrew the previous government. "I don't think we've ever seen people take such a stand at such risk." Staring down the highest levels of COVID in Latin America, a massive food and medicine shortage, and the country's complete economic collapse, most Cubans felt like they had nothing to lose. "Folks need to understand just how great we have it here in this country," Waltz said soberly. "We can peacefully protest -- our voices can be heard. But somewhere like Cuba, you are risking torture, you're risking death -- just for taking a stand."
At best, Waltz says, your family is in abject poverty, struggling to find your next meal. At worst, you're being thrown behind bars. "So it is quite brave and commendable, but it also speaks to a level of desperation that these people are truly facing right now." Although Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has switched back on the internet and agreed to let some aid into the country, the protests rage on. Over the weekend, the government staged its own counter-rallies, complete with a token appearance by 90-year-old Raul Castro to try to bolster more support for his controversial regime.
Elsewhere, in American streets, Cuban Americans waved flags in support of their oppressed countrymen. President Joe Biden, under pressure from radical Democrats to ease the U.S. embargo on the island, has been surprisingly quiet. And no wonder, a Washington Post reporter says. "The progressive wing of the Democratic Party does not want to go hard against Cuba, against some of the things that the Castro regime may have been a part of, in part because there are some Democrats there, some progressives who agree with some of those things."
In Waltz's opinion, it's just as well that these extremists show themselves for who they are. "You're seeing the progressives' true colors come out," he said on "Washington Watch." "We see it every day in a Pelosi- run Congress where the Left really is the tail wagging the dog. And Biden has turned out to be, as predicted, a Trojan horse for the progressives. But man, in their praise for the Cuban regime and their praise for socialism and then condemnation that it's America's fault... it's all coming out. And a lot of us can't say we didn't tell you so."
Meanwhile, the regime they're so enamored with is going door-to-door hunting protestors and church leaders. Jatniel Perez, director of William Carey Biblical Seminary and pastor at Centro Biblico Crecer in Cuba, insists some people have just disappeared. Others are in prison for no other reason than joining their parishioners on the street. "That's the situation for many of the Cubans who have been protesting... They don't have liberty of speech." From inside Cuba, many warn that the international media is only telling part of the story. The internet blockages are so intense and unpredictable that no one can confirm the deaths of innocent people at the hands of communist officials. The press is "soft-selling the severity and brutality," Catholic leaders on the ground warn.
As for the church leaders, Perez says, "For the moment, we don't know where they are... [W]e don't know their status or anything. We just know that they have charges [against them]." Like everyone else in Cuba, he insists, they just want freedom. "They just want to have everything possible for them and [have their needs met]." That's why, in his opinion, this will continue.
And the American people have a huge role to play in that fight for liberty. While Cubans recite portions of the Declaration of Independence, longing for what we have, the United States gives oxygen to their cause by saying, "We support you. We're with you." They need to hear that America has their back, Waltz urged. As quiet as the Biden administration has been on the issue, we can change that by pressuring this president to stand with the Cuban people, he insisted -- especially as they make this "brave and incredible protest against the authoritarianism that is communism and that is socialism."
In the meantime, Perez pleads, "Pray for us. Pray for the people in Cuba. Pray for the pastors in Cuba, because everybody has fear of what the government can do to them." Right now, Cuban officials are closing churches. They're restricting the salaries of the pastors. "So I want you to be praying for the pastors. And the second is pray for love among the people and try [to] defend... one to the other. So that's like the biggest need that we have right now. And for us to get to preach the gospel all over Cuba, that can change lives, too."
You can hear more from Perez on Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. (ET) during our special Cuban-focused Pray Vote Stand. You'll hear from people on the ground, policymakers, and church leaders about what we -- as Christians -- can do to help the hurting people of this nation turn the page on 62 years of oppression.