For the first time in 64 years, the Cuban people are protesting against their oppressive government, and we stand with them
( Yerson Olivares // Unsplash )
For over 60 years, Cubans have watched their beloved island slip further and further into the unrelenting grip of an authoritarian dictatorship that strips them of their freedom of speech, voting rights and their basic human rights. On top of these long-lasting issues, a recent spike in food shortages and the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused thousands of citizens to take to the streets to protest. The Cuban people are hungry, frustrated and tired of the regime that has taken everything away from them. This is the largest civilian protest that has taken place in Cuba since the Revolution from 1953 until 1957. Independent journalists reported that demonstrators chanted “freedom” as well as “enough” to emphasize their disapproval of the Cuban government and the worsening economy.
Although protestors tried to use social media to provide updates and livestreams, Cuban authorities have shut down the internet, making it difficult for the world to grasp the true scope of the situation. Additionally, this shutdown has cut off civilians from contact with the entire world, including family members living in the United States or other countries. My (Daniella’s) family in Cuba has been unable to contact us for days, and we have no way of knowing if they are okay. My cousin was pulled out of his home in the middle of the night and forced to stand guard at his place of work during protests.
The impacts of the pandemic have only worsened the economic situation, with tourism, an important sector in the Cuban economy, at a standstill. However, COVID-19 is only one of the many challenges that the Cuban people must face. On top of this, Cubans have been burdened with blackouts and growing inflation.
With the devaluing of Cuban currency, citizens have been forced to find different currencies on the black market just to obtain basic goods and necessities, such as food, medicine and hygiene products. Many Cubans have had no choice but to leave their homes before sunrise and wait in grocery store lines with hundreds of other people for hours, only to be faced with empty shelves. Even where there are items available, the costs of basic food items have upsurged, making it even more difficult to obtain goods. Additionally, as COVID cases skyrocket, waiting in long lines leads to needless exposure to others and only increases their chances of contracting a disease that cannot be tended to with the appropriate treatment or medication.
With heavy inflation, standard items such as powdered milk, which once cost 2.5 pesos, now costs 300 pesos. Cooking oil, an item that used to have a spot on every home’s shelf for 50 pesos, is now a luxury at over 200 pesos.
While key American politicians, including President Biden, Nikki Fried, and Representative Val Demings, have recently expressed their support to demonstrators, US sanctions and the embargo imposed on Cuba have further exasperated the struggling economy.
These measures are meant to officially ban trade or other commercial activity with Cuba and have been in place for more than 60 years, banning all exports except for food and humanitarian supplies. In turn, the embargo has cost the Cuban economy over $140 billion in a span of almost 6 decades. During the Trump administration, the United States government took even more measures to strengthen the embargo and implement more sanctions towards Cuba; only restricting the Cuban economy even more.
The U.S embargo has contributed to limited foreign investment which in turn, caused a $4 billion loss of foreign trade amounts for Cubans in 2018 and 2019.
Multiple international key actors, such as the United Nations General Assembly, have called for the US to suspend the embargo, but the Biden administration has yet to address or take any action towards lifting it. Thus, while Biden says he supports the protestors, his administration must back up those claims with action. However, it is important to note that the embargo does not place restrictions on humanitarian aid, which the U.S. has attempted to send to Cuba, only to have the aid turned away by Cuban officials. People are not going hungry because of the embargo. Per government regulations, there is food in government officials’ homes and hotels for tourists, but no food for the civilians. The root of the issue is the Cuban government’s authoritarian rule and cruelty toward its people. Suspending the embargo is only one step in a long road to overthrowing the regime that deprives the Cuban population of basic human rights.
As Cubans continue to protest against the worsening situation, authorities have arrested and beat demonstrators, utilized tear gas and implemented a heavy police and military presence throughout the streets. Young men are being forced to fight against their own people as the police equip them with bats and orders to beat protestors. On top of cutting off all internet, the Cuban government has resorted to cutting off electricity and water supplies in order to suppress civilians.
Despite the government’s brute force and utter disregard for its people, unarmed civilians continue to fight back. This is extremely significant since there is no freedom of assembly under the dictatorship: meaning protesting is illegal.
With these protests continuing, many people around the world are searching for ways to help the Cuban people. One way to assist the Cuban people is to educate and spread awareness about the situation via social media. Unfortunately, there are many infographics on social media platforms that have been spreading misinformation. If you are thinking about reposting, steer clear of posts that claim the Cuban people’s main reason for protesting is lack of COVID vaccines, or posts that fail to recognize that the main oppressor in this situation is the Cuban government. Additionally, cities around the United States have been organizing rallies in support of Cuba. Information regarding these rallies can be found across social media handles. On a governmental level, calling your representatives can be a way to make sure your representatives are pressured to address the situation.
The Cuban people have decided that enough is enough. We need to do everything we can to make sure their voices are amplified and heard despite their oppressive government’s attempts to silence them.