A week of unrest and protests in Cuba has many international spectators suggesting the country is on the brink of a new revolution. Cuba is facing its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a crisis which has been exacerbated by the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and repression by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. U.S. President Joe Biden has made a statement that the U.S. “stands with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from decades of repression and economic suffering.”
Problems in Cuba have been slowly increasing since the onset of the pandemic, which saw many Cubans out of work, as tourism is one of the country’s biggest sectors. Many families have dried up their cash resources and are facing life-threatening food shortages.
As well as this, black markets carrying food have been established, as the street value of the Cuban currency (peso) has fallen to approximately half of its official rate against the U.S. dollar. Power cuts and internet blackouts lasting four to six hours add to the humanitarian hardships Cubans are facing, which the government has blamed on the United States’ 60-year embargo on Cuba.
Al Jazeera reported the first rallies beginning in a town just outside of Havana, where protestors shouted “libertad”(freedom) as well as chanting “we are not afraid.” News of the protests spread across social media, sparking further protests across the country, likely catching the Cuban government off guard. MLC stores where necessities are sold in foreign currencies were looted, with hundreds of arrests being made. President Díaz-Canel appeared in the streets of San Antonio calling the protestors “provocateurs” suggesting they had been fooled into actions by counter-revolutionary forces backed by foreign powers, as well as blaming the U.S. for “economic asphyxiation.”
The mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, has stated that “The United States and the international community must do something now.” He expressed his concern for the Cuban people who needed urgent food and medical assistance. Without tourists, the Cuban government can not pay its bills abroad, and as a result, there is not enough food being imported into the country. The hardships that Cubans are facing due to the economic crisis have resulted in unrest as people turn against President Díaz-Canel for his financial mismanagement of the economy. These issues faced by Cubans have been prolonged as a result of COVID-19. Cuba has developed vaccines of its own. However, they appear somewhat ineffective, with the country still being overwhelmed with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Cuba’s strict communist regime has lasted almost 60 years, but public anger and unrest are causing a build-up of political dissent aimed at the Cuban president. The United States’ strained relationship with Cuba will be tested, with Washington expressing support for human rights and democracy in Cuba. Addressing these human rights issues faced by Cubans, such as extreme poverty and lack of food and medicine, will be the utmost issue for the international community to address. Navigating U.S. sanctions and Cuban government restrictions is a difficult task. However, a foreign policy report has stated that, at the least, by keeping the internet running in Cuba, the United States can help facilitate platforms to stimulate social action and the easy spread of information for Cubans around the country.