What’s happening in Cuba?
On Sunday and Monday night, July 17th and 18th, protesters took to the streets of Cuba to express their anger against the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the poorly run vaccination campaign and the recent power outages that have been recently happening all across the country.
Cuba is in the middle of an economic collapse, fuelled by discontent of regime rule
This situation is not new. Cuba has been grappling with a dire economic situation for years now. Cuba’s “state-controlled economy shrank by 11%, the largest decline in three decades” an analysis in BBC reported. The economic decline of the country has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, which has ransacked the tourism industry, an economic motor for Cuba. In addition, remittances entering the country from Cubans living abroad have also plummeted – a source of income that is essential to many families ravaged by poverty in Cuba.
The economic crisis fuelled by the current health crisis has been so dire in Cuba, that many people have become unemployed, the government has been unable to implement sensible and effective economic reforms to mediate the situation and there have been increasing instances of people lacking basic needs, like food and medicine, according to Fox News.
With living conditions worsening, Cuban people started voicing their resentment towards the government of president Miguel Díaz-Canel. The protests escalated and the people started calling for an end to Cuba’s 62-year-old communist regime, shouting “we want freedom” on the streets of Cuba’s capital city, Havana.
In response, the Cuban government sent security forces on to the streets to disband the crowds. The government followed with increasingly undemocratic intrusive measures, by shutting down the internet, making access to information scarce and effectively ripping apart Cuba from any means of communication to the world.
The protests began well over a week ago, when on July 11, in the western city of San Antonio de los Baños, thousands of Cubans took to the streets to voice their resentment at the current communist regime. With protests growing, this easily spread to over 40 cities in less than a week.
The Washington Post also shared some rather intense instances depicting a government-wide crackdown on the protesters. With an increased security presence in Havana, security forces allegedly started even braking into people’s homes and arresting suspects that they suspected were part of the protest movements.
A violation of human rights is already under investigation, with human rights groups reporting that between 150 and 200 people have already been arrested or are missing since the protests took place on Sunday, July 18th. Reports have come out that militants pertaining to the Communist Party were ordered to enter the streets armed with sticks and beat protesters. In the meantime, police stations are packed with relatives of the missing Cubans, desperately looking for their loved ones.
The faith of these missing Cubans is of quickly becoming an ever-important concern. Rights advocates in Cuba have eluded to the fact that the Cuban government plans to press disorder and disobedience charges against those who took part in the protests, which might evade due process and hold trials behind closed doors, says The Wall Street Journal.
Ever since the government’s crackdown, names of those arrested have started surfacing in the media. Among them are Luis Manuel Otero, a visual artist and a notable figure of the dissidents’ community, Amaury Pacheco, a poet and José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Cuba’s most important opposition group. Given the common denominator of these arrested activists the tide is turning against president Miguel Díaz-Canel. Therefore, there’s no exaggeration when the assumption could very well be that this campaign is a strategically manufactured to be a smear campaign against leaders and members of the regime’s political opposition.
With people standing for hours in line to buy a chicken or board a bus, and with power outages happening all over the country in recent weeks, the Cuban people have become increasingly resentful of the country’s course of action.
Meanwhile, while the Covid-19 pandemic had been managed in 2020, with the country registering few deaths – 146, 2021 brought a renewed surge of the virus in the island country. While the government reported close to 2000 infections this year, the pandemic is meant to take a drastic turn in a country in which the health system is under strain and vaccination rates are nowhere near where they should be – only 18.6% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
What has been the reaction by the US government?
So far, the US government has responded in its usual manner, when it comes to certain abuses of power from foreign actors: they’ve expressed their concern and voiced support to the protesters.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated that “the U.S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights”, while Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted his support of the movement.
During a press conference on Thursday, President Biden voiced his concerns of the situation that’s been unfolding in Cuba and had some rather harsh remarks on behalf of the incumbent government: “Cuba is, unfortunately, a failed state and repressing their citizens”, and
”Communism is a failed system — a universally failed system”. While former President Barack Obama tried to normalise US – Cuba relations, by lifting US sanctions and relaxing trade restrictions with Cuba in 2016, the dynamic between the countries has yet again reached an all-time low.
With protests against the Cuban government happening in Florida, a US state with a heavy Cuban population, inheritance and importance, the regime in Havana is accusing such external relations of orchestrating the protests in Cuba.
It looks like for the time being, US-Cuba relations will not be on a path to future collaboration.
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