People protest in front of the Capitol in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Credit: Ramon Espinosa / AP

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Cuba Libre. Free Cuba.

In English, it’s shorthand for rum and Coke. The  origin story is that an American Army captain — stationed in Havana helping Cubans fight Spain — ordered a rum and Coke, then toasted the bar with the salute “por Cuba Libre!” to a free Cuba. The cocktail was born.

“Cuba Libre” is on the lips of many Cubans today. In fact, the New York Times reported — via Twitter — that Cubans were taking to the streets, shouting “freedom” and “other anti-government slogans.”

As an aside, there is something dyopsian describing cries for “freedom” as equivalent to “anti-government slogans.”

Nevertheless, a century-plus ago Cubans sought American assistance to throw off the yoke of colonialism. The United States obliged, sending military units like then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders.” The flashpoint for the war was the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor.

Today, Cubans are again calling for assistance. Russia, China and Iran — not exactly the axis of good-intentions — have warned the United States against “intervening” in the island nation. It is an inflection point for the Biden administration.

The domestic political calculus is challenging for the president. Some members of his political coalition — such as the “Democratic Socialists of America” — loudly proclaim that they stand with Cuba’s “Revolution,” code for the heirs of Fidel Castro. They claim the problems in that country stem from U.S. embargos.

Other Democrats, including Florida Rep. Val Demings, have called for support of the protestors opposing the Castro regime’s “tyranny and dictatorship.” President Joe Biden lost Democratic strongholds in Florida due to Donald Trump’s popularity with Cuban-Americans.  

The international aspects aren’t much better. Biden has made the American withdrawal from Afghanistan a core plank of his diplomatic agenda. It has resulted in a massive Taliban resurgence, including the murder of unarmed, surrendering Afghan troops. Despite these terrible outcomes, Biden remains steadfast in support of his accelerated removal timeline.

Cuba Libre.

America is far from a perfect nation. There are times in our nation’s history when we have fallen far short of our lofty ideals. The term “banana republic” comes from an unholy alliance between large corporate interests — like the United Fruit Company — and the U.S. government ensuring their financial interests in Latin America were well protected.

But there are other examples of American forces being a force for good. World War II is the quintessential “good war,“ where we fought the evils of Nazism and Imperial Japan. We stayed put after the war, as a stabilizing force.

Today, we have over 55,000 Americans stationed in Japan and 35,000 in Germany. The Korean War was fought to a stalemate; nearly 25,000 American troops remain there today.

Japan has become the third largest economy in the world. Germany is number four, and South Korea is 10. They are all first-class trade partners for the United States. They are steadfast allies in the international arena. The relationships between our countries make the world a better, safer, and more prosperous place.

As America approaches the ongoing protests in Cuba — shouting “freedom” and “other anti-government slogans” — we must keep in mind these experiences, good and bad. When Russia, China, and Iran — all nations attempting to undermine our social fabric through hacking, misinformation, and outright cyberwarfare — are aligned against us, we may be on the right path.

So, while sending in modern day “Rough Riders” may not likely be the answer, America can serve a role in providing stability. From stability comes prosperity. And from prosperity comes “first-world problems,” which — in the long arc of human history — are pretty good problems to have.

But it all starts with Cuba Libre. Cheers.

   

Michael Cianchette, Opinion contributor

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.