Written by: Rakibul Mobin
As we speak, the streets of Cuba are being pervaded by anti-government protests. This Caribbean island has a long history of protests and rebellions throughout its history but the current one might be the most impactful of recent years. People of Cuba have not seen a protest of this magnitude since the ‘Maleconazo’, which happened in 1994. A few hundred have been arrested, several are injured and allegedly one died while protesting. The protestors want current president Miguel Diaz-Canel to resign and end the ‘one-party state’ ruling system, which has been going on since 1965. And as always, that question has to be asked – ‘Should Cuba consider some changes now?’ or ‘Should the United States lift all the embargoes and sanctions from this country and let the country and its people live as they please?’.
Before being this ‘one-party state’ communist country, Cuba was ruled by the puppet governments selected by its mighty neighbor, the United States of America. These governments were military dictatorships. They used to allow American companies to run businesses down there and exploit the mass people of Cuba. These years of dictatorship had taken its toll on the small island country. During that period, Cuba had a very sturdy economy mostly powered by its sugar and tobacco plantations. But these plantations were used to be operated by American companies and these companies took most of the revenues back home, leaving the local people exploited and uncompensated. Public utilities, oil refineries, railroads – these were also run by American firms. The United States controlled 80% of Cuba’s trade before the revolution. All of these infuriated the Cuban middle class and they started craving for a change which was brought to their shores by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Their revolutionary army overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s administration in 1959 and established a socialist country right under the nose of the United States. The Castro administration cut all ties with the states, depriving them of their ‘rights’ to Cuba. This started the long haul of embargoes and sanctions over the Caribbean country by its neighbor, which is still going on.
Fidel died in 2016. Before that, his brother Raul came to power. Raul stepped down from the presidency in 2018 and selected Miguel Diaz-Canel to lead. Under his administration, dissatisfaction regarding a socialist one-party state started rising. Then Cuba, along with the whole world, got hit by a pandemic. Recently, the COVID situation in Cuba got much worse. Besides, the relentless US sanctions exacerbated the whole economic circumstances. Due to the sanctions, the price of the necessary commodities got out of hand. At the same time, the universal healthcare system of Cuba is collapsing. As a result, people started getting out and protesting against this administration in the streets in hopes to put an end to it, along with nearly six decades’ socialist Cuba.
The protest started on July 11, when thousands of people started occupying the streets of Havana, the capital of the country. Soon it outbroke to all other provinces and thus, the whole country. They demanded freedom and an end to their hunger. Diaz-Canel’s administration handled the protests very poorly. Police started making arrests and arrested protestors were detained. Some were injured too. The protestors were singing ‘Patria y vida’, which means ‘Homeland and Life’. The title of the song was an alteration of the ‘Patria o muerte’, which means ‘Homeland or Death’, a song used by the revolutionary army during the Cuban Revolution. They were also chanting slogans against Communism. President Miguel Diaz-Canel made a statement blaming the US sanctions for the shortage of commodities. He labeled the protestors as ‘Counter-revolutionists’. Following his statement, pro-government counter-protesters arrived at the national Capitol Building. They indulged in clashes with the protestors. On July 12, a protester died on the outskirts of Havana. There were reported internet blackouts throughout the country. Social media sites were allegedly blocked by the government to prevent the documentation of the protests on social media.
The Biden administration imposed a new sanction on a Cuban senior security officer and an interior ministry brigade following the Cuban government’s reaction to the protests. President Biden threatened to continue the sanctions on Cuba and not to soften the two countries’ hostile relations of decades. Many Cuban-Americans called for US military intervention in Cuba. Several Latin neighbors of Cuba suggested all the sanctions be withdrawn from Cuba to support their crisis time.
The United States’ trade embargoes on Cuba started back in 1958. President Eisenhower imposed an embargo on the arms trade. But soon after the revolution, the embargo was extended to include almost all exports. This trade embargo debilitated the Cuban economy over time. Cuba used to receive subsidies from the Soviet Union before the breaking down of the Soviets. But after 1990, Cuba had to face depression regarding the embargo. The United States has threatened many countries to stop trading non-food items with Cuba. Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution every year demanding the end of the US economic blockade on the Caribbean country. The United States and Israel have voted against the resolutions consistently.
Decades of exploitation left Cuba as an impoverished country. Castro’s administration replenished its glory, making it the only functioning socialist country in the world. Cuba is the first nation in the world to introduce a universal healthcare system. It has the highest doctor-to-population ratio globally, and it has sent over thousands of doctors to around 40 countries over the world. During earthquakes in Indonesia and Pakistan, the Cholera outbreak in Haiti, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and the Corona pandemic in Europe, Cuban doctors and healthcare workers worked in the frontline. Cuba ranked 30th on the 2019 Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, making it the only developing country ranked that high. Besides healthcare, its education system is universal too. Public education was one of Castro’s primary goals. By 1962, after overthrowing the Batista administration, the illiteracy rate in Cuba had dropped to 3.6% from 23.6%. Today, the country has a literacy rate of 99.75%. This country thrived in education and healthcare, two basic human needs, even after being in the shackles of sanctions for decades. However, the COVID pandemic and simultaneous embargoes have disrupted both the systems in Cuba. The administration is dealing with a pandemic with almost no help from the outside world. They are not getting proper medical supplies due to the embargo. Thus, the economical and healthcare crisis occured.
Cuban protestors on the streets might want the death of communism, but ‘communism’ gave them the right to live in a country free of foreign interference. Neither could the mighty bald eagle bend Castro for a second over his nearly six decades’ regime, nor could they kill him like his comrades. Cuba stood tall with great impertinence despite all those embargoes. Miguel Diaz-Canel might not be the right person to keep the legacy of Socialist Cuba running, but it is neither wise to ask for US intervention on Cuban soil by the Cubans to get rid of him. It is really up to the people of Cuba to decide whether they want ‘democracy’ with foreign invasion in their country, or be vocal about the unjustified embargo imposed on them by the United States, which is one of the main reasons behind their hunger and debilitating healthcare.
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