In some of the largest protests in decades, Cubans have taken to the streets in multiple cities to protest Communist rule in the island country. In Santiago, one protester said he hadn't "seen anything even close to it in 53 years, it is the beginning of the end of tyranny in Cuba."
Protests are unusual in Cuba but hit hard by the pandemic and, some say, economic sanctions; many people there have reached their limits. The last popular revolt, the Maleconazo Uprising in Havana, on August 4 in 1994, was 27 years ago. The revolt led many in the country to leave by boats and rafts.
There is a stark contrast between the wealthy elites with their lavish lifestyles and the common man in Cuba—a contrast that is one of the hallmarks of both Communist and Socialist regimes.
61-year-old President Miguel Díaz-Canel "blames the U.S. for the turmoil, calling its tight sanctions on Cuba—which have been in place in various forms since 1962—a 'policy of economic suffocation,'" according to reporting by the BBC. Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro, Fidel's brother when Raúl stepped down in April of 2018. Díaz-Canel became the first Vice President in 2013 in Cuba's history.
In a broadcast, Díaz-Canel told citizens that he will not "allow any counter-revolutionaries influenced by the United States, allowing themselves to be carried away by these strategies of ideological subversion."
The economy seems to be the top driver for the protests. Tourism has been all but suffocated because of increased restrictions on travel due to the pandemic. Sharp rises in prices, blackouts in major cities, shortages of food and medicine. According to Diariodecuba.com, "Cuba is the only country in the Americas that does not publish its poverty index." Cuba also manipulates indicators on income and poverty to such an extent that it shares with the Democratic Republic of the Congo 194th place in terms of average per capita annual income.
The BBC reported:
"Long lines of Cubans queuing up to buy goods such as oil, soaps or chicken have become commonplace during the pandemic. Basic medicines have become scarce in both pharmacies and hospitals and in many provinces they have begun to sell pumpkin-based bread due to the lack of wheat flour."
"Cubans interviewed by the BBC last week said some medical centres do not have any aspirin, while the island has seen outbreaks of scabies and other infectious diseases. Last month, the government said it would temporarily stop banks accepting cash deposits in dollars, the main currency that Cubans receive in remittances from abroad."
On Monday, President Biden responded to the protests. Notably, he failed to name the regime as communist or socialist.
Biden Statement/July 12/White House Press Release
Both Governor Ron DeSantis and Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez have issued statements supporting the Cuban protests.
More than 60 percent of the U.S. Cuban population lives in Florida, followed by New Jersey and California, according to Cubansinflorida.us.
Cubans in Florida.us
And Armando Ibarra, President of the Young Republicans in Florida, reports that 57 opposition leaders were "kidnapped by the Communist dictatorship's secret police on Sunday and overnight."
There are also reports of electricity being cut off, Cuban regime troops firing into crowds, and the "shutting down of internet and mobile service." According to Codastory.com:
"The state tightly monitors Cuba’s digital spaces—the island has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere and connections are poor. The internet is also heavily censored and sites are blocked by the government. Freedom House, an organization that ranks political and digital freedoms around the world, gave Cuba a 22 out of 100 in its 2020 “Freedom on the Net” report."
Marianne Díaz Hernández, a Chile-based Fellow at the digital rights group, Access Now, reminds freedom-loving people that blocking internet access is:
"...a small part of a larger structure of control,” she said. “That it is not just that the internet is controlled by the government, it’s that everything is controlled by the government. Cubans cannot have independent businesses, they cannot make many decisions by themselves.”
The New York Times on July 11 reported Cubans "shouting 'Freedom' and other anti-government slogans" as they protested food and medicine shortages.
A young man held up a bloodied Cuban flag, stating he has "friends in prison" because they protested, adding, "It is worth it."