John Miltimore writes at National Review Online to challenge a popular left-wing narrative about Cuba’s economic woes.

Last week, more than 60 years after Fidel Castro seized power, the communist regime appeared to be in jeopardy, as thousands of Cubans flooded the streets in the largest demonstrations the nation had witnessed in decades. Then the Cuban government struck back, killing at least one protester, arresting journalists, and blocking Facebook, Instagram, and other social-media sites that protesters had been using to communicate.

Despite initial claims from the U.S. State Department that the protests stem from a “concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages,” an abundance of video evidence suggests that poverty and a desire for political freedom are the real root of the unrest.

“The people are dying of hunger!” one woman can be heard shouting in a protest recorded in Artemisa, in the island’s west.

While most of the world has witnessed stunning economic advances over the last half century, Cuba has been left behind. Data show that income per person in Cuba — one of the wealthier countries in the Western Hemisphere prior to Castro’s takeover — is now barely half the world’s average (54 percent), and that the country now lags far behind its neighbors. This may explain why many sympathizers with the Cuban regime have pivoted from denying Cuba’s poverty to rationalizing it.

The media and various left-leaning groups have suggested that the U.S. embargo on Cuba — not the nation’s socialist policies — is to blame for the country’s misery. Black Lives Matter called the embargo “cruel and inhumane.” …

… The true cause of Cuba’s economic plight is its communist system. This should come as little surprise. An abundance of research shows a strong connection between prosperity and economic freedom. In a 2018 metastudy that examined 92 scholarly studies on the relationship between economic growth and economic freedom, 93.5 percent of them found a positive correlation.

Cuba, of course, is one of the least free countries in the world.