July in Cuba is predictably hot, but this summer something quite unusual arrived with the rising mercury—the
passionate fire of civil unrest. The people on the island took to the streets, shouting libertad, Spanish for freedom, and calling for change.
The demonstrations began in San Antonio de los Baños, a town about 16 miles southwest of Havana. Video images of the protests quickly spread by cell phone—something roughly half of all Cubans now own. As the word got around the country, the protests spread to other cities and towns, and soon thousands were demonstrating all over Cuba, including in Havana, where immense crowds formed in the city streets. These were the largest protests seen on the island in decades.
This type of dissent is rare in Cuba, where communism has reigned for more than 70 years, nearly all of that with a Castro in the highest seat of power. Life for the average Cuban has never been easy, but the past year has been particularly hard. The pandemic has essentially shut off travel to the island, which is heavily reliant upon tourist dollars, and the disease has ignited in intensity this summer. Cuba’s seven-day average of new coronavirus cases soared to more than 9,000 in August, compared with 1,100 in early June. Deaths, once fewer than 10 per day, had increased nearly tenfold. As this issue went to press, the nation of around 11 million people had suffered nearly 600,000 cases of Covid-19, with more than 4,600 deaths.
To say the least, Cuban citizens don’t enjoy the same rights as Americans. Many of the protesters were arrested, soon the Internet was cut off in the country, and Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel called on his supporters to take to the streets in defense of the government. The
actions caused the Biden administration, which had essentially ignored Cuba since coming into power in early 2021, to discuss the country and stand up for the protesters. “The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they
assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba,” said President Joe Biden. (See our website for continuing coverage of Cuba, and these events.)
Free speech is ingrained in the American way of life, and it’s a right that we are taught from the earliest days of our education. The ability to voice your opinion—whether via a conversation with a friend on the golf course, a post in an online forum or a podcast to millions of people—comes naturally in the free world, so naturally that we often take it for granted.
One person who never fails to speak his mind is our cover subject, Joe Rogan. He’s the host of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the most popular podcast in the United States, big enough to earn him a $100 million payday from media firm Spotify. Rogan has chatted with just about everyone, from Elon Musk to Quentin Tarantino to Mike Tyson, and more and more, his chats involve his latest love, a fine cigar. Read all about his journey from comedian to influencer starting on page 44.
Free speech, like Rogan exemplifies, is sadly not always free. There are those who have to fight for that right. We hope that the people of Cuba find their voices again, and one day—not too far in the future—have the ability to have their voices heard on a regular basis.