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The Morning Dispatch: Cubans March for Freedom
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The Morning Dispatch: Cubans March for Freedom

Plus: the dangerous heat waves in California and the Southwest.

Happy Tuesday! The Dispatch’s softball team faces off against the Brookings Institution tonight, with the winner taking sole control of first place. Please send some good vibes our way—we’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The White House on Monday expressed support for the Cuban people as mass protests in the Caribbean nation extended into their second day. “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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

  • Israel’s Ministry of Health on Monday began offering a third dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to severely immunocompromised individuals as the Delta variant spreads. Pfizer executives briefed U.S. health officials on Monday about the possibility, but no shift in policy was announced. “The CDC and the FDA said that based on the data that we know right now, we don’t need a boost,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “That doesn’t mean that that won’t change. We might need … to give boosters either across the board or to certain select groups, such as the elderly or those with underlying conditions.”

  • Army Gen. Austin Scott Miller—the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan since 2018—stepped down from his post on Monday, transferring his authority to Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

  • The Senate unanimously confirmed Jen Easterly—an Army veteran and National Security Agency alumna—to serve as the new director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Monday.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear yesterday that the Biden administration would continue the Trump administration’s rejection of most of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. “We call on the PRC to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small,” Blinken said.

  • The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday it will add a new warning label to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after about 100 preliminary cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome have been detected out of the 12.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients. “Although the available evidence suggests an association between the Janssen vaccine and increased risk of GBS, it is insufficient to establish a causal relationship,” the FDA said in a statement.

Cuban Protesters: ‘We Are Not Afraid’

A rally in front of the Cuban embassy in Spain. (Photo By Alberto Ortega/Europa Press/Getty Images.)

Thousands occupied the streets of Cuba on Sunday and Monday in a striking display of solidarity against their socialist leadership, calling for an end to the autocracy and corruption responsible for the country’s food shortages, economic disrepair, and vulnerability to COVID-19. “No tenemos miedo,” or “we are not afraid,” was the rallying cry of the day—even as Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel ordered police to harass protesters and rallied pro-government supporters to do the same. 

“We are calling all the revolutionaries in the country, all the communists, to take to the streets and go to the places where these provocations are going to take place,” Díaz-Canel said Monday in an apparent call for vigilantes to target participants in the demonstrations, which he attributed to the work of “opportunists, counterrevolutionaries, and mercenaries paid by the U.S. government.” 

Ramiro Valdés Menéndez—an 89-year-old politician and participant in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s—parroted Díaz-Canel’s paranoia on Twitter, proclaiming that the residents of the southern city of Santiago de Cuba did not allow the “counterrevolutionary criminals” to do the bidding of the United States.

Cuba responded as police states are wont to do, deploying law enforcement to beat, fire water cannons at, and in some instances, shoot at protesters. More than 100 were arrested by the end of the day Sunday. Kentik, a network monitoring company, reported internet outages following the demonstrations as authorities sought to stifle the spread of dissent. 

In contrast to anti-government movements preceding it, Sunday’s unrest was striking in its broad inclusion of protesters across the ideological and socioeconomic spectrum. Gatherings began in the town of San Antonio de los Baños—some 20 miles from the capital of Havana—and spread East to more than 50 cities and towns across the small island nation. 

The demonstrators, many of them young and well-connected, took to Facebook to livestream the gatherings and attract other supporters. Some donned American flags, while others chanted “we want freedom” and “down with the dictatorship.” 

Some experts attribute this unprecedented wave of dissent to a coalescence of various economic factors, pointing to the poverty wrought by the pandemic and U.S. sanctions. Others view the unified call for regime change as reflective of broader discontent with the Cuban communist government, which has faced charges of authoritarianism, mismanagement, and exploitation since its takeover in 1959. 

“Yesterday’s demonstrations illustrate the frustrations and sense of despair that many ordinary Cubans feel. The pandemic has deepened an economic crisis that has been more or less latent for decades now, as Cuban authorities have been unable to implement sound and effective economic reforms,” Professor Alejandro de la Fuente, chair of Harvard’s Cuba Studies Program, told The Dispatch. “But yesterday’s demonstrations also build on recent expressions of dissent and protest, as illustrated by Movimiento San Isidro and the 27N Movement, which have resulted in growing government repression.”

In a statement Monday, President Biden affirmed the U.S.’s support for the Cuban people’s “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.” 

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

#SOSCuba went viral on social media over the weekend, as Cubans popularized the hashtag to request international assistance in the face of overrun hospitals and record deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. The government—which declined to join the World Health Organization’s COVAX organization  that provides vaccine aid to the developing world—reported nearly 7,000 new COVID-19 cases and 47 new deaths Sunday. 

The protests were met with bipartisan support from American officials and lawmakers—particularly from the Cuban-American community. “All those who commit acts of violence against the unarmed Cuban people will be responsible for their crimes,” Cuban-American Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tweeted in Spanish. “The days of the dictatorship are numbered and claims of ‘I just followed orders’ will not be a defense.”

“The Cuban people are determined to be free, taking to the streets across the island to demand their freedom,” GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar said on Twitter. “The Castro regime has given orders to repress the peaceful protests, but let me be very clear: the United States will not tolerate the Cuban military firing upon its people.” 

Democratic lawmakers shared similar statements. “For decades, Cuba’s dictatorship has used violence and repression to silence its people, rather than permit the free exercise of democracy and their basic social rights,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez said. “This must end. The world’s eyes are on Cuba tonight and the dictatorship must understand we will not tolerate the use of brute force to silence the aspirations of the Cuban people.”

“As I’ve said over the years, no one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom,” Menendez added. “Let us hear their voices. Listen to their cries of desperation. Support their demands by ensuring we do not perpetuate the regime’s decades of repression.”

The Biden administration has shared several statements backing protesters but has yet to elaborate on how that support might materialize—an offhand approach might be the Cuban people’s preference. 

“Those protesting are ordinary Cubans, with a clear overrepresentation of the youth, people who have grown up in a country that offers them no hope, no future, no sense of purpose,” De la Fuente said. “I think most Cubans expect solidarity and support from the Biden administration, but Cuba’s problems are of domestic manufacture and need to be solved by Cubans. Most Cubans oppose the US embargo, but eliminating the embargo would not solve Cuba’s problems.”

It’s Getting Hot in Here

When we asked Michael Wehner—a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—to comment on the heat wave, he responded with a query of his own: “Which one?”

“It’s a pretty active year for heat waves,” Wehner told The Dispatch, speaking in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the lab. After record-breaking temperatures hit the Southwest in mid-June and the Pacific Northwest in late June, the heat has come for California and the Southwest yet again.

While it can be tempting to reach for simple narratives about what causes extreme events like these, reality is often more complex.

“Causality can be kind of a deep philosophical question,” Wehner said. “In the climate sciences, we take a rather practical viewpoint borrowing techniques used from epidemiology. And so what we recognize is that a complex event, like a disease, for instance, or a heatwave or a storm, has many different elements that all have to be just right for the event to happen. And so there’s usually not one causal factor. It’s usually the confluence of a number of things.”

In the case of these heat waves, the most obvious contributing factor is the fact that it’s summer. “Beyond that, there have been some unusual patterns of the atmospheric circulation,” Wehner said. Climate change exacerbates the effects of both of these things. As the bell curve of temperatures has shifted right over the past few decades, extreme temperatures have become more common even as median temperatures don’t feel that different.

After the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, Wehner contributed to a “rapid attribution study” that found it was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it would have been without climate change. Although that heat wave was an extremely rare event, it was made at least 150 times more likely by climate change—and that’s just the lower bound of the estimate. “Without climate change, it pretty much was not going to happen,” Wehner said.

The current heat wave in California is less severe than the one that hit the Pacific Northwest. But it’s still concerning, especially when seen in combination with the impending onslaught of what may become the worst fire season in the state’s history.

The economic and human impacts of heat waves can be severe. Wehner said “hundreds if not thousands” of people died as a result of the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest—and the brunt of those were the very old, the very young, and the very poor.

“Dangerous climate change is already upon us,” Wehner said. “This is not our grandchildren’s problem, it’s ours. We must recognize that and take appropriate actions.”

But what form should those actions take? Quill Robinson, vice president of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition, emphasized that successfully addressing climate change and its ills requires a two-pronged approach of mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is what it sounds like: reducing emissions, sequestering carbon, and transitioning to cleaner energy sources. Unfortunately, mitigation alone is not enough.

“For example, Miami, right now, even if we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, they’re still going to have to deal with the consequences of rising sea levels,” Robinson said. In California, improving forest management practices can help with adaptation, but even that is, so to speak, a drop in the bucket.

On an individual level, people should be vigilant and prudent. “Respect the extreme heat,” Wehner said.

Worth Your Time

  • We here at The Dispatch—in TMD and Vital Interests, and on the website—have written a lot about Afghanistan in recent weeks, including the likely repercussions of the United States’ withdrawal from the region. For a thoughtful argument in favor of the Biden administration’s decision to follow through on the withdrawal, check out Michael Brendan Dougherty’s latest in National Review. “The mission in Afghanistan when the United States invaded 20 years ago was to destroy al-Qaeda’s operations, get Osama bin Laden, and punish the Taliban for hosting terrorists who attacked us,” he writes. “We accomplished these missions years ago.” Even with the Taliban’s recent military successes in Afghanistan, Dougherty argues that it is not America’s responsibility to “babysit a society … lamentably surrounded by a people trapped in a stage of development that Germania escaped nine centuries ago. We have much, much more important things to do.”

  • On the latest episode of the Odd Lots financial and economics podcast, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal and Tracy Alloway were joined by Kurt Alexander, CFO of Omni Hotels and Resorts, to discuss the nationwide labor shortage, why employers are struggling to find workers, and what Omni is doing to attract talent in the current conditions. 

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Something Incredibly Fun

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso won his second consecutive Home Run Derby last night, but the evening’s most entertaining matchup came in the first round between Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels and Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. The two young superstars tied twice, eventually having to resort to a sudden death round to determine the winner.

Toeing the Company Line

  • On yesterday’s Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David take a macro look at the most recent Supreme Court term and provide some of their overarching takeaways. How have the Trump-appointed justices shaped the makeup of the court? Are there any thematic throughlines to the court’s jurisprudence this term?

  • Anyone who grew up watching Schoolhouse Rock knows how a bill becomes a law. But, when it comes to infrastructure, how does a bill become a road? Price explains

  • Also on the site today, Walter Olson writes about how our electoral institutions withstood the test of the 2020 election but asks, “Will the line hold next time??”

Let Us Know

If you could be an all-star professional athlete for just a day, what one thing would you most want to do: hit a home run, slam dunk a basketball, throw a touchdown pass, hit a hole-in-one, or something else? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), Tripp Grebe (@tripper_grebe), Emma Rogers (@emw_96), Price St. Clair (@PriceStClair1), Jonathan Chew (@JonathanChew19), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).