After Hurricane Ian devastated most of Cuba last Tuesday, protesters took to the streets of Havana. According to The Guardian, the entire island of 11 million people was without power within a matter of hours after the storm hit. Many wandered around in the dark, checking on loved ones and examining the carnage that had torn through their streets just a few hours before. A total of three people have been confirmed dead. According to Yale Climate Connections, an additional 18 Cuban migrants have reportedly died or gone missing, while crossing on a boat from Cuba to Florida during the hurricane. For just the city of Havana, officials stated on Friday that power was still only restored to about 60 percent capacity for its 2 million residents, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Alex Bandrich, a 35-year-old protestor at one of the gatherings on Saturday night, told The Guardian, “I haven’t had light in my house for the last five days…I’ve lost food, although I kept some at a friend’s place [with power], and I’ve had to take my daughter to my mother-in-law’s place.” Another protester, Carlos Felipe Garcia told Reuters, “It’s like being in hell…That’s why we’re out on the street, and we’ll keep coming out.”
The protests echo similar demonstrations from just a year ago in Cuba, as regular blackouts, food shortages, and declining access to medical care worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unclear, according to the New York Times, exactly how many people took part in the protests, but evidence from multiple spots across Havana circulated in shared videos showing potentially hundreds of people participating. This is also in direct defiance of the more than 1,000 protesters who were detained by the government and given mass criminal prosecutions last year—some as young as 16 years old, according to The New York Times.
The situation in Cuba has been in a rapid decline for many years. Hurricane Ian further exposed the fragility of the infrastructure and power grids in the small island country. February 2022 marked 60 years since the U.S. first imposed the trade embargo on Cuba under the John F. Kennedy administration, at the height of the Cold War. Though, under the Obama administration in 2015, diplomatic relations were renewed between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in over 50 years, Trump worked to undo most of this during his presidency. In order to permanently fix the power grids and improve the overall infrastructure of Cuba, the country needs more resources and funding.
Now, as the Biden administration works to help southern parts of the U.S. which were also hit by Hurricane Ian, the Cuban government has made a rare plea for emergency aid from the U.S., according to the Washington Post. Though the details of what the aid would look like have been kept confidential by the U.S. State Department, Biden’s acknowledgment of Cuba’s dire situation is promising. The U.S. providing comprehensive aid to Cuba would be twofold: It would not only assist with the immediate humanitarian crisis, but American resources would also help the larger scale refugee and migration crisis between Cuba and the U.S. southern border. To avoid further unrest and potential human rights violations from the Cuban government, aid should be provided with parameters. These funds should not be used corruptly, and the people of Cuba should have more say in their government’s actions.
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