Protests erupted in various Cuban cities the weekend of July 11 over dire economic conditions and a surge in Covid-19 cases. They are the biggest protests to hit Cuba in three decades, and they may well continue in the coming weeks. They come on the heels of artists’ protests in Havana at the end of 2020, and have extended to many parts of the island. But their scale has been exaggerated by the Western press and by Cuban Americans who have been predicting, for 60 years, the imminent fall of the Cuban government.
Media outlets like The New York Times wrote about ‘hundreds of Cubans’ while Reuters described them as thousands. In either case, Cuba has a population of 11 million people. The protests pale in comparison, both in terms of turnout and in state repression, to mass mobilizations that have rocked Colombia, Haiti, Chile, Ecuador and other Latin American countries over the past few years or even Portland, Oregon, or Ferguson, Missouri. Moreover, US media have paid little attention to the counter protesters, who have gone out into the streets to express their support for the government and Cuban Revolution. This includes Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who marched in the streets of Havana after denouncing the protests as an attempt to “fracture the unity of the people”.
The protests should also be understood in the context of a brutal economic war waged by the United States against the island nation for more than 60 years. This was laid out clearly by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in 1960, when he explicitly called for “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” This strategy has failed in its goal of regime change for decades, and it is unlikely to be successful now.
There is no denying that Cubans are facing very severe conditions at the moment. The country has been hit by blackouts, as well as shortages of medicine, food and other basic necessities. The food shortages haven’t led to hunger or famine, but people have to wait in long lines to obtain goods often at inflated prices and their diet is extremely limited.
In terms of health, even basic medicines and equipment like syringes are difficult to acquire. Additionally, there has been an increase in Covid-19 cases, particularly in the city of Matanzas. However, this surge—as onerous as it is on the people of Matanzas—should also be kept in perspective. Cuba, a nation of roughly 11 million people, has had fewer than 240,000 cases of Covid-19 and 1,537 deaths. By comparison, Ohio, which has a similarly sized population, has had 1.1 millioncases and more than 20,000 deaths. Despite the shortages, Cuban health policies have protected the population from the worst of the pandemic. With 139 deaths from Covid-19 per million population, Cuba places among the best performers in the hemisphere, miles ahead of the 1,871 deaths per million in the United States. Furthermore, Cuba has already proven that two of the five Covid-19 vaccines that it is developing are successful in preventing coronavirus infections and has vaccinated over two million people with their locally produced vaccines.
The shortages are being used by proponents of regime change to accuse the Cuban government of failing its citizens. Even the Biden White House called on Cuba’s authorities to “hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
It is unclear who Biden thinks has been “enriching themselves” in Cuba, but any criticism of Cuba that does not include a thorough analysis of the internationally condemned U.S. blockade will miss the most important factor in why Cubans are currently undergoing such hardships.
While the blockade has been in place for over six decades, it was tightened in significant ways under the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure.”Medea Benjamin & Leonardo Flores, "Protests in Cuba," The News. 2021-07-15.
Keywords: Political sciences , Political issues , Cuban government , Health policies , Economy , Hunger , Pandemic , President Miguel Díaz-Canel , Colombia , Haiti , Chile