Cuba is undergoing a dramatic upheaval right now with the largest anti-government protests in 30 years taking place in the streets of Havana. Events unfolded this past Sunday with thousands calling for the resignation of Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, the successor to Raul Castro who has led the Communist party since 2011 until Canel Diaz took over in 2019. Since the death of Cuba’s most infamous leader, Fidel Castro, the country has modernised; this is largely due to the impact of former U.S. president, Barack Obama who eased many financial and mobility restrictions on Cubans looking to deal with the Americans. These steps were somewhat reversed under Trump, but Obama’s impact has been visible in Cuba.
However, modernisation has meant truly little to the average Cuban who has spent the last 18 months dealing with the worst sugar harvest in recent times. Only 66% of the required harvest was achieved this season and alongside covid restrictions, the importation of foodstuffs and vital supplies have been severely hindered causing a spike in consumer prices, likewise the unhappiness of the masses. In recent protests, 1 man has been killed and more than 136 people are missing according to Amnesty international. Many of those detained and restricted have been local journalists and more prominently Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, leader of the San Isidro Movement, created to denounce restrictions on freedom of expression in Cuba. Sources believe he is being held in the main security headquarters in Havana and yet, he was one of the many woes expressed by the protesters.
Amidst the protests, authorities have resorted to social media disruption and the gagging of independent media on the island, according to watchdog, open observatory of network interference. Censorship has also played a large role in recent demonstrations and many Cubans feel freedom of expression is the only way the country can develop.
President Diaz-Canel has called for calm and even admitted the governments misgivings over the handling of food shortages that have led to the protests. Despite this, Diaz-Canel still blames U.S. sanctions and social media circulation for much of the activity – even though humanitarian aid to Cuba has not been restricted since the Clinton administration in 2000. The Cuban government is dragging their heels, but it does seem as though they are waking up to capitalist policies with economics minister, Alejandro Gil, announcing a loosening of wage restrictions and proposals to allow small to medium sized businesses to form under government supervision.
Many will see proposals as not going far enough and it only being a matter of time before more protests spring up across the island as they have done in Florida. Cuban-American Senator, Marco Rubio began circulating the #SOScuba hashtag in recent days highlighting the need for medical supplies in a country stricken by covid-19 whilst also mentioning the urgency of U.S. intervention. Contingency plans have been made for a potential exodus from Cuba amongst the Biden administration but to date, exact plans have not been revealed.
Cubans have lived in relative isolation from the U.S. since the mid-60’s but after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990’s, the pillars of communism which it holds in high esteem have been crumbling whilst the rest of the world, including ideologically aligned Russia and China, have modernised, and developed technologically.
Increasing global visibility for many Cubans has allowed them to become more critical of their one-party government when drawing comparisons with their much larger neighbour. Although, repression across the country is certainly a step in the wrong direction by the government, Beijing is ensuring the government in Havana is well equipped to deal with public discontent by installing Huawei telecommunications systems that can be used by the government to disrupt communications amongst the people.
Additionally, China insofar is now Cuba’s biggest export partner; if the U.S. have any backbone, they should remain open to Cuba as the tiny island has once again become a totem of the American struggle to curb the spread of dictatorship and freedom around the world. As much as the protests mark a jolt in the direction of Latin American politics towards the capitalism; on a governmental level, this is a golden opportunity for the U.S. to reaffirm themselves as deeply interwoven in the global fabric by standing up to China who will certainly be watching how the situation develops in Havana.