Cubans Take To The Streets As Economic Situation Worsens

Over the past week, protests have erupted in Cuba following food shortages and blackouts amidst the worsening economic crisis. In an interview with CNN, a resident of San Antonio de Los Banos said that the neighbourhood had been experiencing power outages for a week. Furthermore, according to US News, this is Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has been exacerbated by the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 6,000 daily cases and 28 deaths as of 9 July  2021. During the ongoing protests, the police are using tear gas and arrests to combat the crowd as demonstrators call for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to resign. Canel neglected to give concessions in his speech last week and claimed that U.S sanctions caused the Cuban economic crisis. Moreover, U.S.-Cuban relations have been at their lowest point in years and continue to deteriorate.

On Sunday 11 July, acting assistant secretary for the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung tweeted, “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm [protests] and condemn any violence.” President Canel however disagreed and stated in a national address “We are prepared to do anything. We will be battling in the streets.”

The Cuban Government continues to crack down on free speech, assembly, and protest. In an interview with Reuters, assistant professor of Latin American History at Florida International University, Michael Bustamante, noted that these were the largest anti-government protests since 1994. The protests signal a breaking point in Cuba as citizens are suffering from a lack of medicine, food shortages, and blackouts. Furthermore, this is not the first time a dictatorship has used its power to repress its citizens which has also been visible across the globe in Syria, Sudan, and China. If Cuba does not continue to pressure the Government it may backslide into its historical repression which massively hindered progress in conflict mediation and sustainable solutions.

Throughout its 60 years in power, the Communist Regime in Cuba has suppressed dissent, supported propaganda, and maintained control over the Cuban people. Fidel Castro established a revolutionary socialist state in 1959 and strengthened ties with the Soviet Union during his tenure. U.S. sanctions on Cuba, initially imposed by President Eisenhower, were strengthened under the Bush Administration in 1992. Since then, U.S.-Cuban relations have ebbed and flowed, with the current relationship being the worst in recent years. The Cuban regime under President Canel has continued Fidel and Raul Castro’s legacy of human rights abuses, economic failure, and political repression. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the White House stated that shifting U.S. policy towards Cuba is not one of Biden’s main foreign policy concerns. These recent protests have reignited debates between U.S. government officials on U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Economic reforms would satisfy many of the protestors’ grievances. According to the New York Times, experts point to the market socialism economic model as a way out. This model, used by China and Vietnam under Communist Party rule, would allow for prices to be set by supply and demand and for farmers to have control over selling their products. Experts argue that this would reduce imports and mitigate the food shortage. Additionally, reforms on business license restrictions and taxes would allow the private sector to flourish and businesses to hire more employees. However, infringements on free speech, assembly and protest remain human rights issues in Cuba. The lack of individual freedom under Cuban law shields the Government from accountability and transparency for its abuses. Citizens in the U.S. and Canada must stand with Cubans as they pressure the Government to take part in long-overdue reforms.