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Former President Donald Trump’s comparison of his prosecutions with the Cuban regime downplays the realities of the island’s authoritarian regime, experts said.
The Cuban government intimidates activists, political opponents and journalists by detaining or arresting them and subjecting them to poor treatment and violence in detention.
Trump has been the subject of two gag orders, one in a civil case and one in a criminal case. But neither amounts to the Biden administration broadly shutting down free speech.
In Hialeah, a Cuban American enclave in south Florida, former President Donald Trump compared prosecutions by dictators in the Cubans’ homeland with the Biden administration’s actions.
"Just like the Cuban regime, the Biden regime is trying to put their political opponents in jail, shutting down free speech, taking bribes and kickbacks to enrich themselves and their very spoiled children," Trump said in the Nov. 8 speech that countered the Republican presidential primary debate in Miami.
For years, Trump has been saying the prosecutions are politically motivated and "election interference." But in his remarks in Hialeah, he went much further by comparing the cases against him with actions of the Cuban government.
Trump’s statement downplays the realities of Cuba’s authoritarian regime, experts said. The actions of the Cuban government — including jailing political prisoners without due process, controlling the media and stifling dissent — are not comparable with Trump being charged with crimes and guaranteed due process.
When contacted for comment, the Trump campaign pointed to the multiple criminal indictments against the former president and gag orders in criminal and civil cases.
Trump’s remarks likely resonate with the audience in Hialeah, said Ted Henken, a sociologist at Baruch College, City University of New York and an expert on Cuban culture.
"He was telling a Cuban-American audience what they wanted to hear by tapping into a real ‘red-meat’ trauma for them related to the destruction of Cuban democracy and civil society by the Castro regime," Henken said. "But the comparison to the Biden administration has no basis in fact."
The Cuban government represses and punishes nearly all forms of dissent and public criticism, according to Human Rights Watch, an international nonprofit organization. The Cuban government is known for intimidating activists and political opponents by temporarily detaining them, and for arresting journalists and subjecting them to violence.
Prisoners Defenders, a Madrid-based rights group, reported that as of October, Cuba was holding 1,062 people who met the definition of political prisoners. These people are typically not guaranteed due process, such as the right to a fair public hearing or legal representation.
Cuba’s government not only punishes public criticism, but also controls all media and restricts access to information from outside the island.
Cuba’s penal code that took effect in December increased limits on freedom of expression and assembly for journalists and activists, Amnesty International found.
"The Castro regime canceled general elections and outlawed all political parties except for the Communist Party; systematically persecuted, repressed, and harassed dissenting opinions; incarcerated large numbers of political prisoners; and carried out extrajudicial executions," Jorge Duany, director at Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute, told PolitiFact. "The well-documented pattern of violation of basic human rights in Cuba has no parallel in the United States."
Biden is not the person in charge of the criminal investigations. The decisions about who to investigate and prosecute are in the hands of the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden nominee, named special counsel Jack Smith to oversee the Trump investigations.
Trump has been charged twice in federal court and separately in Manhattan and Fulton County, Georgia.
In the federal election case, Trump faced charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump tried to sway state lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to act illegally, and he participated in a fake elector scheme. Experts have told PolitiFact that constitutes conduct, not speech.
In Fulton County, Trump was also accused of crimes related to trying to overturn the election. He was one of 19 people charged under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization, or RICO, statute. The case is being prosecuted by District Attorney Fani Willis.
The federal charges in the documents case include willful retention of national defense information. The charges followed an FBI seizure of documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida, after more than a year of back-and-forth communication with the federal government.
In Manhattan, District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with falsifying business records over hush money paid to adult film actor Stormy Daniels.
New York Attorney General Letitia James also filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump and the Trump Organization created 200 false and misleading valuations of assets in New York, Florida and Scotland to defraud financial institutions. The civil fraud trial continues as of this publication.
Arguing that Biden is trying to jail a political opponent, Liz Harrington, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said that one of Trump’s trials — the federal election subversion case — starts the day before Super Tuesday and that some cases against Trump are in Democratic jurisdictions. Trump faces charges in those jurisdictions because he is accused of committing wrongdoing there.
Trump’s comments about the Biden administration’s efforts to shut down "free speech" was a nod to gag orders.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, a Barack Obama appointee, issued an October gag order in the election case and instructed Trump not to make statements targeting Smith, court staff or witnesses. But she ruled that Trump could still make statements criticizing the current administration. The gag order was temporarily paused while Trump is appealing.
Separately, Trump is under a gag order in the New York civil trial, banning him from speaking about communications involving the judge and his staff. Judge Arthur Engoron has fined him twice for violating that order.
Trump frequently criticizes Biden at public rallies and on social media, and he has been given due process.
"We have no evidence in any of the four criminal trials that former President Donald Trump’s due process rights have been violated," said Steve Swerdlow, a lawyer and University of Southern California associate professor of the practice of human rights.
Sebastian A. Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, said Trump’s statement is hyperbole.
"Cuba is a totalitarian regime where free speech is systematically restricted and political opponents are routinely harassed and incarcerated, with no independent judiciary or media, and no legal recourse. The U.S. is still an open society under the rule of law," Arcos said. "Regardless of the many interpretations of Mr. Trump’s legal troubles … the U.S. remains an open society with checks and balances under the rule of law."
Trump said, "Just like the Cuban regime, the Biden administration is trying to put their political opponents in jail, shutting down free speech."
His statement amounts to a reckless downplaying of the authoritarian regime in Cuba, where leaders have shut down dissent for decades.
Cuba’s political prisoners are jailed for exercising free speech and challenging the actions of the party in power. Trump has been charged with crimes and is guaranteed due process, including the right to a fair public hearing and legal representation.
Trump has been the subject of gag orders issued by federal and state judges presiding over two cases. He retains his right to criticize Biden or his political rivals, as he frequently does on social media and at rallies.
We rate this statement False.
C-SPAN, Former President Trump in Hialeah, Nov. 8, 2023
X, Clip of Trump speech, Oct. 23, 2023
PBS, Trump compares himself to Nelson Mandela after filing for New Hampshire primary, Oct. 23, 2023
Reuters, Trump casts 2024 contest in apocalyptic terms, slams prosecutors, March 26, 2023
PolitiFact, Trump and some in GOP are promoting a Biden bribery allegation. It is from 2020 and unverified, June 16, 2023
PolitiFact, Read indictment of Donald Trump in the special counsel’s 2020 election, Jan. 6 investigation, Aug. 1, 2023
PolitiFact, The Trump documents indictment: Which charges are most serious? Can he still run in 2024?, June 9, 2023
PolitiFact, Read the 34 felony charges in the Donald Trump indictment over the Stormy Daniels payoff, April 4, 2023
U.S. District Court, Gag order in USA vs Trump, Oct. 29, 2023
Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review, The illegal expropriation of property in Cuba: A historical and legal analysis of the takings and a survey of restitution schemes for a post-socialist Cuba, June 2000
Human Rights Watch, Cuba Events of 2021, accessed Nov. 8, 2023
Amnesty International, Cuba: New criminal code is a chilling prospect for 2023 and beyond, Dec. 2, 2022.
Email interview, Liz Harrington, Trump campaign spokesperson, Nov. 9, 2023
Email interview with Jorge Duany, director and professor at the Cuban Research Institute in Florida International University, Nov. 10, 2023
Email interview, Sebastian A. Arcos, Associate Director. Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, Nov. 9, 2023
Email interview, Theodore Henken, professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College, City University of New York (CUNY) and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Black and Latino Studies, Nov. 10, 2023
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