Cuba, Gripped By Unrest, Battles Highest Covid Caseload In The Americas

As of Monday, 19 July, Cuba reported approximately 4,000 new coronavirus cases per million residents from the prior week, making them the country with the highest infection rate per capita in North and South America. Both contributing to and exacerbating existing political tensions, the spread of the virus has intensified the demands of the healthcare system as it is not equipped with the proper infrastructure or resources to address the needs of the country.

In response to increasing trends in new Covid cases, the New York Times has cited a lack of vaccine availability as one contributing factor, and Pan American Health Organization director Dr. Carissa Etienne noted that Cuba and the surrounding areas have become “a region divided by vaccine access” with approximately 80 percent of the population remaining unvaccinated. Additionally, as the Delta variant has spread to the country, there has been a steep increase in the need for hospitalizations and hospital services — and not enough supply to satisfy the demand. Furthermore, some argue the United States has worsened conditions through their continued sanctions on Cuba, ultimately weakening the economy of the country and making it more difficult to provide adequate resources and supplies.

First and foremost, the United States must lift its sanctions from Cuba, removing any further economic strain. In addition to their inhumane effects in the time of a pandemic, these sanctions ultimately harm Cuba’s working class to a far greater extent than the targeted Cuban government, who are likely impacted very little. Furthermore, as sanctions primarily hurt vital businesses and industries in a country, the United States is further contributing to the likelihood of product and service shortages in Cuba. By continuing to impose these sanctions, the United States is prioritizing its own political agenda over the lives of millions of individuals who have no control over US-Cuban relations.

However, according to Reuters, “the political implications of such a crisis are greater” in Cuba because “healthcare is considered one of the pillars of the legitimacy of its ‘revolutionary’ one-party system.” Yet, the country has continuously experienced supply shortages and economic strife — or at least government-favored misdirection of resources — over the course of the pandemic, leading many to doubt the government’s reliability and promises of meeting citizens’ needs.

As a result, the spread of the virus has also contributed to political protests across the country, with many criticizing the mishandling of the surge and the subsequent effects it has brought upon the residents of Cuba, such as blackouts, resource shortages, and economic strain. The Cuban government has reportedly countered with “special forces jeeps, with machine guns mounted on the back” as well as “heavy police presence…even long after most protesters had gone home,” according to Reuters. Many protesters were also arrested, beaten, and pepper-sprayed by police.

Furthermore, the Cuban government must ensure that its residents maintain the right to peacefully protest. Often stifling dissent and criticism of the government, and even responding with violence, Cuba is demonstrating a disregard for human rights by denying freedom of speech. Additionally, to address the pressing state of the coronavirus, Cuba must not only appropriately reallocate its available resources and arrange to obtain further accommodations to fill any remaining need but also invest in economic development to better support the long-term well-being of its residents.

As countries continue to battle the effects of the coronavirus, they must keep in mind policies that will prioritize the health and safety of their people while acknowledging the inevitable emotions that will accompany the trauma of the pandemic. Specifically, unless Cuba takes immediate action to provide sufficient and accessible resources and services to its residents, its individuals will continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus. Furthermore, it is critical that the Cuban government take a more peaceful, nonviolent approach to citizen dissent or else risk the lives and safety of its residents.