Mass demonstrations have erupted in Cuba, with these demonstrations going on since the beginning of July.
Reports suggest that the country is experiencing a lack of essential goods, power outages and the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.
The Cuban government have also curbed civil liberties during this time, which adds to the many reasons why these protests are occurring.
How did this start?
Cuba’s economy contracted by 10.9% in 2020, and in the first six months of 2021, the economy contracted again by another 2%. Not just that, but Cuba has had less financial support from the likes of Venezuela and United States sanctions have also played a part in what we see in the country regarding the protests. Donald Trump imposed more than 200 sanctions during his time as President of the United States, and Joe Biden has not lifted these sanctions. However, some argue that the way the Cuban government is set up has played a part in the current protests.
Abraham Jiménez Enoa, a Cuban Washington Post columnist, has stated that the country’s political system has promoted the protests more than the United States embargo. Cuba has a Soviet style-centrally planned economy, and to some people, it has started to become inefficient. Lillian Guerra, a Cuban scholar, has suggested the government has focused on building hotels and tourist facilities rather than focusing on addressing the needs of the Cuban people. These needs include living standards being reduced.
The relations between the United States and Cuba are like a spider web. On one side, it’s true that the embargo is not a myth. It really affects the people of Cuba. But it’s obvious, as well, that the embargo is not the only thing responsible for the current state of the country. I’d say the embargo is, like, 30% of the problem, and the other 70% is the ineptitude and management of the Cuban government and its authoritarianism.”
Havana-based Washington Post columnist Abraham Jimenez Enoa
Since the protests have started, there has been many arrests and reports of protestors disappearing. According to a Spanish NGO called Prisoners Defenders, more than 178 people have gone missing during the protests. Those reported missing include José Daniel Ferrer, who is the figurehead of the dissident movement in the country. The UN Working Ground against Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has sent a request to the Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations to act regarding the alleged disappearances.
Joe Biden’s Robust Approach
Historically, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been one of hostility, mainly due to the ideological differences between these countries. Yet, this relationship took a massive turn when Barack Obama become president of the United States in 2008. The then-president initiated an era of détente with Cuba, which meant that all sanctions were relaxed. Obama eased travel restrictions that enabled Cuba-Americans to send funds back to Cuba and for people to visit the country for religious and educational purposes. He also removed the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, embassies of the United States and Cuba reopened in both countries, and Obama visited Cuba in 2016- becoming the first sitting president of the United States to visit the nation in nearly 90 years.
However, as Obama’s time as president came to an end, Trump soon reversed much of what Obama did, especially with Cuba. Trump reinstated travel and business restrictions on the country, cut United States embassy staff in Cuba, and put the country back on the terrorism sponsor list. With Biden becoming president of the country near the end of 2020, there was anticipation that he would reverse much of what Trump did regarding Cuba, but this has not occurred.
Observing the current protests in Cuba, Biden has reacted robustly by making it clear that he supports the protests and has already sanctioned Cuba’s security minister, their police force, and two police leaders. This is due to how the government has handled the demonstrations, and Biden has stated that there will be more sanctions “unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba.” Miguel Diaz-Canel, the president of Cuba, hasn’t been too impressed by the United States position and has even blamed the United States for its current unrest. He has suggested the protests were sincere but have been manipulated by social media campaigns orchestrated by the United States.
What’s Next For Cuba?
The situation within Cuba looks like it will not improve any time soon, especially seeing how Biden and Diaz-Canel are taking a very zero-sum approach to this situation. Even though information around these protests has died down, there are still reports saying that people have gone missing. Reuters has also reported that fake news has been spreading regarding the protests, making the situation even more unclear. These stories included Raul Castro fleeing to Venezuela, protestors kidnapping a provincial Communist Party chief and Venezuela sending troops to Cuba, which are untrue.
Outside of Cuba, there have been marches of support for the Cuban people in Chile, places in the United States, Canada, and Spain.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States wants the United States to end its embargo on Cuba, with China and North Korea supporting this position.
Meanwhile, countries like Canada, Spain and Mexico want peace within this country and support the protests.