Heightening tensions in Cuba are gaining traction worldwide, yet awareness is close to null: one of the world’s largest ongoing economic crises, citizens storming the streets daily in order to protest against the Communist government, and shortages of electricity, food, and vaccines. Dozens of people have been arrested following a series of historical protests against Cuba’s Communist government, cited by media and opposition sources. Unauthorized gatherings are illegal in Cuba, thus making protests a rare event, leading to the president of the country labelling the protestors ‘mercenaries’.
Two main questions seem to arise: what is triggering the citizens to initiate mass protests across Cuba in such an aggressive fashion, and why is the government turning to swift arrests and press conferences to slam protestors as ‘counter-revolutionaries’ rather than amending state policies?
The protests are a result of increasing food shortages, even for basic food items such as bread or chicken, high prices, the predominant Communist rule, lack of COVID vaccinations, as only 13.1% of the population has been vaccinated, and a surge in COVID-19 infections in Cuba, with thousands taking to the streets to demand President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s resignation. Chanting ‘freedom’, this is the biggest anti-government rally in Cuba in over three decades, with the government choosing to silence the protestors with the application of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper sprays, and heavy deployment of the police forces.
The slogan of the protests, Patria y Vida (homeland and life), came about in an unprecedented manner, a brighter take on the Communist regime’s age old slogan of Patria o Muerte (homeland or death). Explicitly put, the slogan strongly accuses the governing party of ruining the quality of life in Cuba, a message that rings true with the protestors. Taken from a song that instantly went viral in Cuba this year, Patria y Vida was released by four rappers and singers, who claimed the song had been inspired by Cuba’s long history. The song rapidly rose to fame, gaining its identity as the anthem of the protests, while on the other hand, leading to the arrest of one of the rappers, Osorbo, forcing supporters to appeal to the United Nations for unfair persecution.
Electricity and food aren’t the only things being consistently and heavily monitored in Cuba. Internet blackouts are rolling out over the country, with social media platforms facing restrictions due to the state controlled Internet company, Etesca. The induction of mobile networking systems in 2018 has proven itself to be a blessing in disguise in these troubled times. Functioning outside of Etesca’s, and the government's influence, these mobile networks enabled citizens to coordinate protests across the country, allowing prompt protests to take place in Havana.
Prior to the pandemic, Cuba’s main source of income had been tourism, but with the implementation of numerous international travelling bans, the government was forced to hike up prices for citizens, a decision that was not well-received. Furthermore, an unorthodox spike in COVID cases enabled suffering citizens to demand more vaccines, a necessity that Díaz-Canel is yet to provide. Police forces have displayed a stance bordering on violence, disrupting protests with tear gas, and open firing on peaceful demonstrations. Among those detained is journalist Camila Acosta, covering for Spanish newspaper ABC. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares demanded her immediate release, with an unfruitful conclusion.
The current economic crisis can be narrowed down to the United States of America. Tightening decades-old sanctions and embargoes on Cuba under former U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency, coupled with the pandemic’s toll on the country’s economy and infrastructure. Moreover, one of Cuba’s main economic allies, Venezuela, has withdrawn major support, leaving Cuba unmoored and in great debt. Ironically, the Cuban President has blamed the unrest and shortages occurring in Cuba on the U.S. sanctions that have been in place since 1962, calling them a ‘policy of economic suffocation’. The U.S. – seen to have a long history of hostilities with Cuba – has, however, said it stands with the Cubans, and has requested the Cuban government to refrain from violence and listen to its people. "The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights," US President Joe Biden said.
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