Over the past week, there have been a series of public protests in Cuba due to rising prices, falling wages, the United States embargo, and the failure of the island’s government to address these economic challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic shrunk Cuba’s economy by 11 percent in 2020, as stated by the island’s Minister of Economy. This includes a reduction in tourism, which is a major source of income. Former U.S. President Donald Trump also tightened restrictions on Cuban-Americans sending money back to Cuba, and so remittances have also been stifled. Reuters news agency also reported that Cuba’s sugar production harvest levels were at 68% of the planned 1.2 million tonnes, the lowest level since 1908. Cuba’s devalued currency and the rising prices of food, coupled with a shortage of basic goods that existed prior to the pandemic, have altogether caused a rise in protests. President Miguel Díaz-Canel continues to blame the protests on U.S. sanctions, however, he has also acknowledged that policies made by the Cuban government have contributed to the discontent.
Cuba’s economy is characterized as a command economy as government decisions determine the production and value of goods, rather than through market forces. This type of economy is a feature of communist societies. Following the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista during the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Cuba has been governed by a communist party. The Cuban Revolution aimed to create equality in Cuban society. However, though inequality was tackled, the problems with the current economy include government controls over the majority of Cuba’s industries, which has led to significant inefficiencies and mismanagement. The result of these economic policies are the higher prices and shortages of goods being protested currently.
Since the 1960s, the U.S. has sustained a trade embargo against the island in order to force Cuba’s leaders from power. These economic sanctions have hurt the lives of Cuban citizens as food, medicine and various other goods are experiencing shortages. This has contributed to President Díaz-Canel’s claims against the U.S. as he has stated, “The blockade surpasses any desire, it delays us, it does not allow us to advance at the speed we need.”
In 2011, former President Raúl Castro announced potential reforms including the ability for people to set up small businesses, which helped eliminate part of the government’s bureaucracy. However, these reforms have not yet been fully enacted, and with the urgency and short supply of goods, it has left many Cubans frustrated.
The United Nations General Assembly has voted to end the U.S. embargo repeatedly over recent years. On June 23rd, The United Nations’ resolution calling for an end to the embargo was adopted for the 29th time, with 184 countries supporting its end, 3 abstaining, and the U.S. and Israel voting for it to continue. Only the U.S. Congress ultimately has the ability to end the economic sanctions against Cuba. U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration, as well as the U.S. Congress, have not made moves to end the sanctions.
Following the protests, the Cuban government has announced it would reduce customs restrictions on food, medicine, and other products such as hygiene products brought to the country by travelers. However, it is projected that this would not make much of a difference as tourist levels remain low amidst the pandemic. Overall, the protests have drawn attention to urgent issues that must be addressed accordingly.