Cuba’s Humanitarian Crisis: The three Ps you need to know about and an insight on US-Cuban relations
Over the past few days, unrest has been increasing throughout the streets of Havana, Santiago and other major cities of Cuba as Cubans indulge in ongoing, pro-democracy protests. Unrest related to the food and medicine shortage due to the economic crisis aggravated not only by the Covid-19 pandemic but also the US sanctions, now presents a major challenge to the nation’s communist leaders. “There is no food, no medicine, there is no freedom. They do not let us live," explained one man named only as Alejandro.
Protests and growing outrage:
Protesters chant for “freedom”, “liberty” and “access to coronavirus vaccines” and simultaneously complain about the regime’s foreign investments in comparison to domestic ones that could help ameliorate the unequipped and crippling healthcare system.Protesters also shouted "down with the dictatorship", based on BBC. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director revealed that 140 Cubans are believed to be detained or have disappeared following one of Cuba’s “largest demonstrations in decades''
One of the main reasons behind the protests’ breakout is the nation’s anger over the inability of the government to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Cuban doctors who helped keep the pandemic under control during 2020 have been dispatched globally as part of a policy of “health diplomacy” and are no longer active in the efforts to handle the crisis.
Although the island has begun a mass vaccination campaign, with 1.7 million of its 11 million residents vaccinated to date and twice that many have received at least one shot in the three-shot process, in recent weeks there has been a new spike in cases. For instance, on Sunday Cuba reported 6,750 cases and 31 deaths.
Another reason why the protests broke out is because Cubans" are tired of hardships and want changes for the better". Inflation and blackouts during the tropical summer, food and medicine shortages and Cuba’s stagnant economy all contribute to worsening living conditions that the citizens no longer wish to undergo.
Thus, a combination of factors such as the crippling economy in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and the US trade embargo, the communist character of the regime and the low living standards all contribute to the growing unrest and passionate demolitions.
The President and the handling of the situation:
There have been continuous calls for President Miguel Díaz-Canel, successor of Raul Castro, to step down, yet in nationally televised address he used the US trade sanctions as a pretext upon which he blamed the economic misery on the communist-run island while disregarding his government’s fallacies. In his speech, he urged his supporters to physically confront protesters by saying that ‘‘the order to combat has been given’’ at the end of his appearance. Other Cuban government officials blamed the protest on “salaried agents” on twitter.
A resident’s testimony sheds light on the weekly power outages that occurred in hopes for the political instability to be acknowledged within the confines of the national rather than the international community. Other sources, such as NetBlocks’ internet monitor, reveal the restriction of social media platforms as another activity of the government- "Social media and messaging platforms restricted in #Cuba from Monday on state-run internet provider ETECSA; real-time network data corroborate reports of internet disruptions amid widening anti-government protests; incident ongoing #CubaSOS". Based on NetBlocks metrics, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and a few Telegram services were being disrupted.
The police forces used means such as tear gas to put an end to some demonstrations while brutally arresting protesters in others. "The streets are full of police" reported a man in Havana, "there are police at every corner and practically all you see going past is police patrols". The presence of plainclothes was also strong. Overall, police are said to be repressive everywhere; they're presence does not resemble anything like a protective organ of the people.
Calls for restraint:
Many political figures have tried interfering and calling for restraint.
- US President Joe Biden stated that “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime". He also asked Cuban authorities to respect citizen rights including “ the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future”.
However, statements deriving from US leaders have prompted criticism from Cuban authorities as they argue that US sanctions are the cause of Cuba’s nosediving economy and by extension the current demolitions.
US-Cuba relations: The trade embargo and its effects on the Cuban economy
Currently, US-Cuban relations have hit rock bottom. That is, the Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba, and so far, the Biden administration has been hesitant to lift them. Díaz- Canel claims that the strengthening of the trade embargo has caused "a very rough period of time, where [Cubans] were going to have many difficulties and economic scarcities". However, experts claim that although the US embargo has a negative impact on the economy by “restricting imports and exports and making it riskier for investors to put money into Cuba” , Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist claims that “many opportunities have been lost to reform the economy” over the years. Specifically, Cuba’s government owns and operates most industries and most of the labor force is employed by the state.