Up in arms

Power, food and medicine shortages lead to anti-government protests in Cuba.

Social unrest is growing in Cuba due to the government’s failure to provide an appropriate response to an increase in COVID-19 infections. Coupled with a feeling of anger caused by shortages in medicines, power and food, thousands of Cubans took to the streets on 11 July to protest against the regime in what has been considered the largest protest movement in more than 25 years. 

A Cuban activist and former education official anticipated the end of the regime, “The civic uprising has started, people have lost their fear of protesting because they have nothing to lose. The movement is real, authentic, the international media is not exaggerating. The resistance will last as long as the regime lasts, every day more officials are leaving, the regime is evaporating.”

“The civic uprising has started, people have lost their fear of protesting because they have nothing to lose.”

Activist, former education official, Cuba

However, after a week of demonstrations, the volume of protests has toned down as communist authorities are seeking to identify its leaders while increasing the control of political dissidents who risk being arrested and could face prison sentences of 20 years. Protests are expected to continue but in a more reduced, localised and spontaneous fashion.

A diplomat at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry believes the situation will be resolved, “We Cubans may be divided, but we all know the historical yoke of foreign power on our faces and our national pride. Ultimately, I think there will be a gradual transition to a system with an illusion of democracy, this wouldn’t have any effect on the daily reality. In any case, what happened in Eastern Europe, where the old communism collapsed, would not happen in Cuba. Here, communism would win at the polls, an unparalleled experience and with international electoral observers, it would be the last straw for Washington that believes that the way out of the crisis is the fall of the revolutionary model.”

“Ultimately, I think there will be a gradual transition to a system with an illusion of democracy, this wouldn’t have any effect on the daily reality.”

Diplomat, Foreign Ministry, Cuba

So far, the regime has shown no interest in negotiating with protesters. At the same time, it has started a disinformation campaign accusing US-financed counter-revolutionaries of instigating unrest and vandalism to exploit economic hardship for political purposes. Despite continuing to blame the blockade imposed by the US embargo for the collapse of the economy, calls for freedom during the protests are seen as evidence that the demands transcend the economic sphere. 

The diplomat commented, “The regime is worried about the interference of foreign democracies but Washington must be careful – a crude interference could unify the divergent groups in the regime. Equally, the US does not want another weak state in the region, a security crisis would cause a wave of rafters arriving on Mexican and US shores. Nobody wants that.”

Although it is too early to know if these latest protests will result in a watershed moment in the history of the island, it is likely that the regime will be forced to make minor concessions while continuing with its ideological purge through political repression. For the opposition, this spontaneous process could be the beginning of a less fragmented and better organised opposition movement. 

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