PROTESTS NOT SEEN FOR YEARS IN CUBA

Cuba has been ruled by the Communist Party (Partida Comunista Cubano-PCC) for years, and anti-government protests in the country have not been seen in decades. The PCC imposes severe penalties on anti-government movements. It is, therefore, possible to say that there are serious reasons behind the protests that occurred in July 2021 in the island, a country of 11 million people. The pandemic, economic crisis, restriction of social media, and the ban on internet access are among these reasons. (BBC, 2021) 

Miguel Díaz-Canel has been president of Cuba and leader of the Communist Party since 2018. But the anti-government movements have not stopped on the island since July 12, and almost all citizens are on the streets to protest the state of the country. The protests began in the city of San Antonio de Los Baños and spread quickly. Freedom and anti-dictatorship slogans attract attention. The demonstrations, which seem not to be settled by repressive policies, are recorded as the largest protests in the country in the last 60 years. For these reasons, the repressive communist leadership blocks the country’s citizens’ access to social media and the internet and restricts access to information. (Aljazeera, 2021) The biggest reason behind restricting freedom of access to social media is the harsh and contrary human rights attitudes of state forces towards protesters. In addition, more than 100 people were quickly detained during protests that began in mid-July. Access to the internet was banned at this point when demonstrations spread to the capital, Havana. (AA, 2021)

People take part in a demonstration against the government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Havana, Cuba, on July 11. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

After the public uprising that could not be ignored, President Díaz-Canel made statements that turned his back on the public. According to the president, it is US mercenaries who are organizing the protests and America’s main goal is to bring down the government and instead create another government that will suit the interests of the United States. (AA, 2021) The president also complains about the ongoing American embargo against Cuba. According to Díaz-Canel, the communist government and its supporters are the revolutionaries that oppose America. So much so that the president called on his ‘revolutionaries’ to take to the streets to oppose the protesters. (BBC, 2021)

Although it is stated that the American embargoes are the reason behind the island’s economic crisis, citizens are now aware that this is not entirely true. The public’s arguments for opposing protests are; a state that is not well managed, people who have been in trouble from all sides for many years, and a state system that has no accountability. In addition to all these, the White House embargoes, which the Communist Government often uses as an excuse, also play a role in the country’s situation. (Sabatini, 2021) 

Given all the reasons, it would be appropriate to separate the reasons that force the public to protest into the following titles and examine them in detail. It is a fact that all countries of the world are more or less negatively affected economically, sociologically and politically, especially under the conditions of the pandemic. But in a backward Latin American country, like Cuba, where opposition side and people are suppressed, political pluralism is blocked, and political rights and freedoms are restricted, the situation is much worse. (Freedom House, 2021)

I. Coronavirus and Its Effects

Since 2020, the effects of the outbreak have continued to shake the island country. The government claims to have controlled the deaths from the start of the outbreak, but the opposition claims the opposite. But the impact of the epidemic on the country’s economy is a fact that cannot be ignored decisively. The state has tried to resolve this situation with partial economic liberalization, in 2020. (Freedom House, 2021) Especially when the economic sanctions imposed during the Trump administration combined with the effects of the pandemic, the country’s economy shrank by 11%. Economic difficulties aside, there have been high rates of deaths due to insufficient medical supplies and the number of hospital beds. (BBC, 2021) 

Another effect of the outbreak was the increased pressure of the Cuban state on political rights. In November 2020, state forces ended the hunger strike of Movimiento San Isidro (MSI), a group formed by opposition artists, and launched a serious investigation. The reason for ending the hunger strike, which began with the arrest of artist Denis Solís, was claimed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Freedom House, 2021)

One of the public’s points of complaint about the outbreak was limited access to the vaccine and the slow vaccination process. The vaccination of a very small proportion of the population of 11 million has also reversed the government’s promises of vaccination.  As a result, all health problems complained about by the public are denied by the state and did not reach a solution. (Frank & Marsh, 2021)

II. Economic Slump

As mentioned above, with the pandemic, some elements on which the country’s economy is based have disappeared. As can be seen in many countries, the currency that comes with tourism in Cuba has been cut off. The cessation of tourism, which has been a very important source of income for the country in recent years, has been the most significant blow to the island’s people and economy. In addition, the island people had to enter long lines to be able to supply basic food items. Although flexibility was provided to some small businesses at the door that opened from the state-run economy to liberalization, no effective solution was found. Tourism aside, Cuba’s economic assistance from Venezuela has also been hampered by the fact that both countries are in poor economic shape. In addition, the decision to release the two types of currencies used in the country as a single type returned to the country’s economy as inflation. (AP News, 2021)

Although salaries are raised to help people who affected by the crisis, increasing prices along with inflation prevents the solution. Drug prices are very high, especially due to customs duties collected on entry into the country, and one of the demands of the public is the abolition of these taxes. Another serious shortcoming of the communist government is the lack of adequate social services for the public. (Sabatini, 2021) In 2020, with the support of the state, special markets were opened for the people to receive their basic needs with foreign currency. However, since the payment of local people’s wages in the Cuban peso and the operation of grocery stores in the foreign exchange, this led to a great contradiction and disappointed the public. Moreover, other infectious diseases, such as scabies in humans, have increased significantly as access to medicines and medical supplies has decreased, while they should have increased. (BBC, 2021)  

With the failure to suppress the protests, which began on July 11, the government took some steps. Custom duties on basic necessities, such as medicines and food were abolished for a while, but not completely. As the actions flared up, President Diaz-Canel said that the problems needed to be examined in-depth. The president, who is noted for his conciliatory attitude, does not give up his accusations against the United States. (BBC, 2021) All these economic troubles and inadequate social services leave the public helpless, while the communist state’s refusal to take responsibility is bringing the country’s situation to disaster.

III. Internet Access Restriction

It was mentioned above that there have been no large-scale protest actions in the country for years. But the current change in internet technologies and social media is now at a huge level. Under pressure from the communist government, the biggest centers of expression and information exchange of the island’s people, and especially its young people, are platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. People who do not get the answers they expect from the state often call for rallies, organize campaigns and claim rights through social media. So, one of the most important areas that the government is trying to suppress is social media.  Mobile data services were shut down by the state, as most of the public learned about the protests from the internet and shared content such as photos and videos. (AP News, 2021) President Diaz-Canel did not hesitate to blame the United States for its organizing social media and internet networks against the Cuban state. During the demonstrations, the public shutdown of telephone services, which are in the monopoly of the state, increased the anger of the public. (Frank & Marsh, 2021) 

Developments

On July 14, 2021, a citizen was killed in action. But in addition, hundreds of people are missing or detained by state forces. In a statement, the Interior Minister stressed that many police officers were also injured, while he declined to give a clear number of detained civilians. A spokesman for Amnesty International said on social media that more than 100 people, including press officials, were in custody. The reasons for the detention of citizens and press employees vary from crimes such as decapitation, civil disobedience, and insults. As a result, these events, which were seen as the first protests to break out in 30 years, were tried to be stopped by the general authoritarian attitude of the Communist government. There are hundreds of casualties, and time will tell the outcome of the detention process. (Kanbir & Sanmartin, 2021)

Prepared by Gökçen Hardal for The FEAS Journal.


REFERENCES

AA. (2021). Küba’da hükümet karşıtı protestolara katılan onlarca kişi gözaltına alındı. Retrieved from https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/kubada-hukumet-karsiti-protestolara-katilan-onlarca-kisi-gozaltina-alindi/2302985

Al Jazeera. (2021). Cuba: Protesters move from social media to the streets. Retrieved  from https://www.aljazeera.com/program/the-listening-post/2021/7/17/cuba-protesters-move-from-social-media-to-the-streets

Al Jazeera. (2021). Cuba restricts access to social media apps to curb protests. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/7/14/cuba-restricts-access-to-social-media-apps-to-curb-protests

AP NEWS. (2021). EXPLAINER: Causes of the protests in Cuba. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-europe-business-health-cuba-53b679e5500247f8bf6195b692015605

BBC News. (2021). Küba’da nadir görülen protestolara yol açan üç ana sorun. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-57808580

BBC News. (2021). Küba’da yaklaşık son 30 yılın en büyük hükümet karşıtı gösterilerinde değişim çağrısı. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-57804819

Frank, M. & Marsh, S. (2021). Cuba sees biggest protests for decades as pandemic adds to woes. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/street-protests-break-out-cuba-2021-07-11/

Freedom House. (2021). Cuba. https://freedomhouse.org/country/cuba/freedom-world/2020

Kanbir, B. & Sanmartin, R.  (2021). Küba’da devam eden protesto gösterilerinde bir kişi öldü, yüzlerce kişi kayıp. Euronews. https://tr.euronews.com/2021/07/14/kuba-da-devam-eden-protesto-gosterilerinde-bir-kisi-oldu-yuzlerce-kisi-kay-p

Sabatini, C. (2021). US embargo blocks constructive policy approach to Cuba. Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/07/us-embargo-blocks-constructive-policy-approach-cuba?gclid=CjwKCAjwxo6IBhBKEiwAXSYBs KiDJ9jKcKTShwxGlQfOjJnTIUjzTzGgQnW_O6k-G4cJf4AwC_G9xoC0M8QAvD_BwE

Independent Academic Platform
Posts created 38

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top