Sinn Féin’s stance on Cuba should concern us all
In recent weeks, thousands of people have taken part in peaceful protests across Cuba amid public outcry surrounding the severe shortage of food and medical supplies available in the country. Shouts of “freedom” and slogans targeting the government can be heard in the streets as activists seek to highlight the economic crisis taking place in the country where open defiance of the administration is incredibly rare and dangerous.
The government and authorities have responded to these protests with intense ferocity and draconian measures. According to human rights organisations, access to the internet was blocked to put a stop to dissent and hundreds of activists have been arrested and cut off from their relatives without legal representation. Independent journalists have been assaulted and placed under arrest by authorities, while the state-controlled media has been used to characterise the protestors as paid, US-backed agents. The regime has also called on its supporters to take to the streets and stop the protests.
Responding to these events, Sinn Féin has decided to stand firmly in support of the Cuban regime, led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel who took over from Raúl Castro in 2019. In a video released across the party’s social media platforms, leader Mary Lou McDonald stated: “This is the 68th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. We send our ongoing message of support and solidarity to the Cuban people and to their President Diaz-Canel. We say again that your cause is just and the blockade of your country is unfair, unjust and must end.”
Galway West Sinn Féin TD, Mairéad Farrell also took to social media to post a picture of herself and a colleague holding a tricolour flag featuring a headshot of the Argentine Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara, with the caption: “Marking the anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban revolution here in Galway in solidarity with the Cuban people!”. Furthermore, Ógra Shinn Féin, the party youth wing, tweeted a picture of a poster containing the words ‘Ireland, our Cuba?’, captioned: “That’s the plan”.
It may feel somewhat irrelevant or needlessly out of touch to put a focus on a topic such as this when there are so many other national issues like the pandemic, housing, and opening up society, that need our attention. However, on reflection, I strongly believe that this is, in fact, important, and should be a cause of concern to all of us who believe in the fundamentals of democracy.
The Cuban government and their supporters will point solely to the United States blockade of the country as the cause of all of their problems. This embargo against Cuba bans all American businesses and businesses operating in the US from trading with Cuba and Cuban entities. The measure was first introduced by President Eisenhower in 1958 and has evolved greatly and been maintained since then. It is a fact that this results in a severe shortage of food and essential medical supplies entering the country, and there is serious merit in the argument to remove the embargo for, at least, these purposes (as the UN has recommended). However, the blockade is not an adequate justification for the authoritarian and repressive nature of the Cuban government.
It is important to note that Sinn Féin is not simply calling for an end to the blockade for humanitarian purposes to adequately feed the people of the nation and provide them with medical supplies. They are explicitly expressing solidarity and sympathy with the Cuban government and the ideology they uphold. Why you might ask, is this a bad thing?
While supporters of the regime will applaud the success of the country’s social policy, such as the free public health and education systems, or their exportation of doctors to Italy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to ignore the fact that international human rights organisations have consistently reported on the existence of serious human rights abuses in the country.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both highlighted serious rights issues that are prevalent in Cuba. They include the suppression of freedom of expression, the persecution of political opposition, the lack of access to food, and poor prison conditions. Amnesty also reported that: “The Cuban authorities do not allow independent human rights organisations to visit the country, and independent human rights lawyers are prevented from working in the country.”
As is being demonstrated throughout the recent protests in the state, the Cuban authorities suppress all forms of dissent and persecute opposition political leaders, independent journalists and artists. For example, the press, the EU, and Amnesty were prevented from monitoring the trial of José Daniel Ferrer García, the leader of an unofficial opposition political group, last year. Members of the San Isidro Movement, which is made up of writers, academics, and LGBTQ+ activists, are also regularly intimidated and harassed by the authorities for challenging a decree which censors art in the country. Social media influencers and bloggers who publish information considered to be critical of the government are often subjected to violence, smear campaigns, travel restrictions, raids on their homes, and being arrested. These are just some examples of abuses detailed in reporting from the period 2020/21.
As stated previously, Cuba is controlled by a single political party — the Communist Party of Cuba, described by the constitution as the “leading force of society and of the state”. While opposition parties are technically legal in the country since 1992, political campaigning is not permitted and candidate selection is tightly regulated by the state. These measures, combined with the suppression of dissent outlined above, mean opposition figures have little to no chance of even participating in elections.
Considering this information, it is quite hard to believe that Sinn Féin, one of the biggest and most popular political parties in Ireland, both north and south of the border, is so vocal in its support for the Cuban government. However, it takes just a few seconds to find their posts on social media which make no secret of their support for this rogue, violent regime. Moreover, if you have followed the party’s foreign policy over the years, this approach may not come as any surprise. In 2019, the party sent a two-person delegation to the inauguration of Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela, whose election is seen by the European Union and several others as being undemocratic and illegitimate.
It is often said that Sinn Féin is “not a normal political party”. It is quite easy to cringe at this statement and view it as an unfair political smear. But, having witnessed the party’s idolisation and romanticisation of the Cuban revolution and regime over the past few days I cannot help but come to that conclusion.
The 2020 General Election saw a large swathe of the electorate place their trust in Sinn Féin to follow through on their campaign promise to be the party of ‘change’. However, we must ask ourselves if this change should mean having a Minister for Foreign Affairs who expresses support and solidarity for a government that suppresses protest and limits access to the internet when it is being criticised? Would we be happy to have our government list as its allies, one-party states without free and fair elections?
I know that come election time I will remember that the party which promised to be “the most effective opposition in the history of the state” expressed emphatic support for an authoritarian state where political opposition is intensely suppressed and basic rights of freedom of expression are met with violence and persecution. I would encourage you to do the same because these things matter. Democracy matters.