“Down with Dictatorship!” This was what was heard during the protests that took place in Cuba over the weekend. Cubans took to the streets of Havana and other cities in anti-government protests. Hundreds of protesters ignored a large police presence in San Antonio de los Banos, just outside Havana province, to vent their grievances, CNN said.
Protesters marched in Havana, chanting slogans asking for freedom, liberty, and unity until police broke up the march and arrested some protesters. Demonstrators also took to the streets in other regions of the country, including San Antonio de los Banos, near Havana, to express their dissatisfaction.
Protests erupted early in the morning in the towns of San Antonio de los Banos in the west and Palma Soriano in the east of the island. Protesters numbered in the hundreds in both incidents. With millions of Cubans now having access to mobile internet, news of the protests spread swiftly in Havana. Thousands marched through central Havana in the early afternoon, chanting "homeland and life" and "freedom."
Why are they protesting?
The protestors are fed up with the government’s actions, or lack thereof, with regards to the food shortages, COVID mismanagement, and poor economic conditions.
Shortages of basic goods in Cuba
“I’m here because of hunger, because there’s no medicine, because of power cuts – because there’s a lack of everything,” said a man who wants to remain anonymous, due to fear of persecution. Lines for foods have been rising. Furthermore, power outages have occurred for several hours each day due to shortages. In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, medical supplies have been limited causing huge issues with the citizens of Cuba.
COVID 19 in Cuba
Cuba is also in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic's worst phase, with health officials reporting 6,923 new illnesses and 47 deaths on Sunday itself. Two of Cuba’s homegrown vaccines are in the last phases of trials. However, people are demanding faster immunization. On the island, independent lawyers, medical professionals, and civil society organizations have pleaded with the communist government to let international humanitarian aid reach people directly. The regime refused to change.
Economic Crisis in Cuba
Cuba is experiencing its biggest economic crisis since the fall of its old ally, the Soviet Union. The economy was suffering even before the pandemic hit. However, it has contracted over 11% just in the last year. It is impossible for businesses to function on a day-to-day basis with an extreme shortage of goods required for production and other activities. This is due to a sharp decline in imports of raw materials due to the US sanctions. The tourism sector of Cuba, one of its main sources of revenue, has also seen a decline due to travel restrictions all over the globe. Sugar, one of their main exports, has also not fared well in the last year, due to structural problems caused by government policies. This year’s harvest has been worse than anyone had expected.
The Cuba government blames the US
On Sunday, Cuban President Miguel Dáz-Canel paid a visit to San Antonio de los Banos and admitted that people had come out to vent their discontent, but he blamed the turmoil on a social media campaign by "a Cuban-American gang." He also accused the United States, which reimposed a trade blockade on Cuba under previous President Donald Trump. Diaz-Canel urged his supporters to oppose "provocations," and smaller pro-government rallies took place. Havana wants the rest of the world to believe that the embargo on Cuban healthcare is the result of the US embargo. Food and medicine, on the other hand, are excluded from the embargo.
The top Cuban official in charge of relations with the United States, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, accused the US State Department and its officials of "promoting social and political instability in Cuba" and advised them to "avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on." He said this in response to acting assistant secretary for state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Julie Chung’s tweet that said- “Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages,”
Violence during protests
People were seen overturning police cars and looting some state-owned shops that sold goods in foreign currency, according to social media posts. Many Cubans rely on these shops to purchase essential supplies, yet the costs are exorbitant.
Hundreds of demonstrators – many of whom were aggressive – were hustled into police cars by uniformed and plainclothes police officers. Police deployed pepper spray and beat protestors with truncheons while youths tore up paving slabs and flung them at them.
Police presence was heavy even after most protesters had gone home by the 9 p.m. curfew imposed due to the pandemic. Special forces jeeps with machine guns mounted on the back were seen throughout the capital, and special forces jeeps with machine guns mounted on the back were seen throughout the capital.
Why are these protests a big deal in Cuba?
When you compare these crowds of protests of Cuba to ones in the US or India, they might seem very small. However, even thousands of protestors on the streets of Cuba are a big deal. While yelling "Freedom!" and "Down with Communism!" may seem harmless in other parts of the world, doing so on the strictly controlled Communist-run island will almost certainly land you in jail.
This only shows the discontent of the people with the government. There is a rising wave of anger among the youth of the country, that has lived most of their lives under a strict dictatorship.