Disclaimer: This is a news summary based on original reports done by the New York Times, BBC, and CNN. All information presented here is obtained from them.
What are Cubans protesting for?
Last Sunday, many Cubans protested the lack of food and medicine across the country. They were also asking for more freedom and for the current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to step down from power (Oppmann, 2021).
What are the roots?
Díaz-Canel is the first person outside of the Castro family to be in power since the Cuban revolution, which occurred more than 60 years ago. Díaz-Canel started the position three years ago after Raúl Castro stepped down (Lopez, 2021). Even though Díaz-Canel is not part of the Castro family, he is still a member of the Communist Party.
Cuba is in the middle of a severe economic crisis that has worsened during COVID-19. The collapse of the economy has led to lack of food and medicine and extreme inflation (BBC, 2021).
In Cuba, basic medicine such as penicillin and aspirin are now unavailable in hospitals and pharmacies. Individuals who have any sort of foreign policy have to wait in long lines to be able to get basic food items such as beans and rice. Blackouts have also increased throughout the country (Lopez, 2021).
In a nationally-televised address, President Díaz-Canel said the U.S. trade sanctions, which tightened during the Trump administration, caused Cuba’s economic crisis (Oppmann, 2021;Lopez, 2021). This, alongside financial mismanagement of the government and lack of revenue from tourism, worsened the already fragile economy. To add to the problem, Cuba’s closest regional ally, Venezuela, suffered its own economic collapse (Lopez, 2021).
Sugar is another important economy booster in Cuba. The product is mostly exported but this year’s harvest has been worse. Azcuba, Cuba’s sugar monopoly, said that the shortage happened due to lack of fuel and breakdown of machinery, as well as high humidity (BBC, 2021).
What happened during protests?
During the protests, many Cubans shouted things like “freedom” and “down with the dictatorship.” The protests happened in the capital, Havana, and across Cuba (BBC, 2021). The police used tear gas to stop demonstrations and many protesters were arrested (Oppmann, 2021). Activists call the crackdown the largest in years, some even say that it is the largest in decades (Londoño, 2021).
According to NetBlocks, an internet monitor, social media platforms are being restricted in Cuba. Websites such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram were being disrupted. Videos uploaded online showed that the spontaneous protests have increased, with more protests erupting across the country (Oppmann, 2021).
What’s happening now?
According to veteran dissidents, the repression was expected to be what they call the biggest protest in Cuba since the Cuban Revolution. The protests forced the Cuban government to acknowledge the economic crisis that has been devastating the country and that sent thousands of Cubans to the streets. They also say that this is a turning point in Cuba. Previously the government has stifled any challenge to its authority for decades (Londoño, 2021). Now the protests are there to defy the government.
In an analysis done by Vanessa Buschschluter, the Latin America and Caribbean editor at BBC, Vanessa explains that protestors shouting “Freedom,” and “Down with Communism,” in a Communist-controlled island can easily land the protestors in jail. She says that the fact that people from small towns are adhering to the protests means that there is a high level of anger fueling the protests. People from small towns can be easily identified by the Communist authorities (BBC, 2021).
Oppmann, Patrick; et. al. 2021. Cubans take to streets in rare protests over lack of freedoms and worsening economy. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/11/americas/cuba-protests/index.html
Lopez, Oscar; et. al. 2021. ‘Everyone Has a Tipping Point’: Hunger Fuels Cuba’s Protests. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/12/world/americas/cuba-protests-usa.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article
BBC. 2021. Cuba protests: Thousands rally against government as economy struggles. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57799852
Londoño, Ernesto; et. al. 2021. ‘There’s no Turning Back:’ Cuban Dissidents Feel Emboldened Despite Crackdown. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/13/world/americas/cuba-protest-arrests.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage