Cubans Rally Against Communist Government As Economy Fails

Cubans have been participating in a series of demonstrations since 11 July, calling for an end to Cuba’s 62-year dictatorship, and denouncing food and vaccine shortages. Authorities have blocked citizens’ internet access in response to their attempts to live-stream protests and civic discontent.

The power and influence of social media has been quickly realized and even feared among officials. However, Cubans continue to be silenced as a result of the severe restrictions on their ability to exercise freedom of expression and assembly demonstrated during recent protests. Despite the consequences of political dissent, many activists and demonstrators continue to publicly criticize the government, chanting that they are “no longer afraid.” However, speaking out has come at a cost; one organization documented 700 detentions and forced disappearances since 11 July.

Although the regime’s failure to do anything constructive about the recent waves of COVID-19 cases was the immediate impetus for the demonstrations, the underlying causes were much deeper. Cubans are demanding emancipation from a communist regime that has ruled Cuba for more than six decades. It is a demand that many Cubans on the ground and abroad say must not be lost amid economic collapse.

Worse, in the midst of a national health crisis, Cubans are struggling to obtain basic needs, plunging most of the population into abject poverty. According to Reuters, the economy plummeted by more than 11 percent in 2020, and has already fallen by another two percent this year, with inflation expected to reach 500 percent. Cubans continue to wait in long lines for food, only to be turned away because it is no longer available or learn that they no longer have the financial means to purchase staple goods. Because the state must import the majority of its food sources, it has been vulnerable to the increase in prices since the pandemic started, with ordinary citizens suffering the most.

People’s economic and social grievances were bound to manifest themselves in some way after months of being economically desperate and frustrated. Indeed, many analysts, including political scientist Gregory Biniowsky, who lives in Havana, were surprised not by the explosion of demonstrations, but by the fact they did not occur sooner.

The Cuban government’s response to protestors has been inconsistent. They have portrayed protestors as misguided revolutionaries, “delinquents,” supporting an invasion by the United States. Cuban president Miguel Diaz- Canel continues to blame the U.S. for unrest, deflecting any sort of domestic responsibility. While most Cubans do not deny that the U.S. embargo has harmed the population and their well-being, they are frustrated with the government’s lack of accountability for ongoing issues. In response to Diaz- Canel remarks, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters earlier this month that the U.S. was not to blame for the myriad of issues plaguing Havana, but that the problems stem from Cuba’s mishandling of its economic affairs.

According to Al-Jazeera, during Donald Trump’s presidency, the U.S. imposed more than 200 sanctions on Cuba, and placed them on the list of state sponsors of international terrorism. The U.S. also halted travel to and from Cuba, and prohibited Americans from sending remittances to relatives living there. President Joe Biden has so far kept these measures in place and shows no signs of easing them, declaring a month earlier at a press conference that Cuba’s policy was not a “top priority” for his government. However, they are closely monitoring the situation and sympathizing with protestors.

At this point, words of sympathy are insufficient. Ending economic sanctions on Cuba is a widely supported proposition across the world, with the United Nations General Assembly condemning the long-standing embargo for the 29th time last month. Human rights experts at the United Nations have urged the U.S. to ease sanctions during the pandemic to ensure that Cubans have better access to medical supplies and equipment. Although it is not the ultimate solution, it provides an opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate its support for Cuba during one of the country’s worst economic downturns since the fall of the Soviet Union. With that said, the international community should try to not only amplify the voices of Cubans, but listen to them.

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