As we all know, the diplomatic relationship between the United States of America and Cuba has been incredibly difficult ever since the Cuban Revolution took place in 1959. Extremely reliant on the Soviet Union exports and military forces, the island has never developed a proper and fully independent economy and has always lived under a United States embargo. In 1991, after the dissolution of the Union, Cuba fell into an incredibly harsh economic depression. Marxist Fidel Castro, "el Lider Supremo", reigned over the caribbean island until 2016, when he died due to undisclosed causes. After the demise of the Revolution commander, his brother, Raùl Castro, took his place as First Secretary of the Communist Party and President of the country. As time went on, Fidel assigned his brother most of the power due to his degenerating medical conditions. During the last years of Fidel's life, the United States of America, under President Barack Obama, tried to defuse the tensions and partially lift the trade embargo. With the election of enterpreneur Donald Trump as President and the rise of Miguel Diaz-Canel as Castros' heir, this process of reconciliation stopped, as both parties expressed little interest in continuing their predecessors' foreign policy.
What triggered the protest and why these ones are different
The COVID-19 pandemic, originated in Wuhan, China, has hit the whole world with hundreds of million of cases and approximately four millions deaths so far. Cuba, as other Communist regimes, thanks to their oppressive internal policies and the embargo with the US, seemed to be one of the few nations around the world to remain unharmed from the virus. That didn't last long. In fact, during the last week, there has been a spike in the number of cases. According to the John Hopkins University's live COVID-19 page and Worldometers, infections have went up from a seven-day moving average of around 1,000 to more than 5,000 with a peak of 6,923 cases.
The Cuban public health system, already suffering with little hospitalizations, has now totally collapsed. There are no hospital beds, no vaccines and no oxigen for the ill. In addition to that, Cuba is now suffering the worst economic recession in a lot of time and there are shortages of food, medicines, basic goods and services.
The protests, made up of tens of thousands of people all over the island, began on Sunday in the city of San Antonio de los Baños and spread through the country reaching the capital La Havana. People call for "Libertad" (freedom), and the end of the communist regime. President Diaz-Canel, in a message to the population, has stated that the "mobs are a minority of counter revolutionaries led by the USA". He also called for his comrades to fight the "traitors" in the streets. The police has been ordered to stop the marches and arrest protesters if they don't obey to their orders. According to international reports approximately 80 people have been arrested.
Diaz-Canel is so worried that he cut communications with the rest of the world just a day after the protests began, he deployed military forces all over the island and, if some speculations turn out to be true, he's ready to cut off Internet (there are already Internet blackouts in many areas of Cuba). These protests are larger than ever before due to all of the economic/ health factors adding up to the government's incompetency and oppressive behavior. Cubans see Diaz Canel differently from the Castro brothers, even those loyal to the Cuban Communist Party argue that he lacks charisma, leadership. Also these protests have mainly been organized on social media, which have been introduced way later than in the rest of the world.
How is America reacting?
Ever since news reached that people began protesting against the government in Cuba, Republican Representatives and Senators, especially those with a Latino or Cuban ancestry, have expressed their concern on what Diaz-Canel might do to stop them, but also hope and joy that this mght finally be the start of the decline for the marxist regime in Cuba. Many Democratic politicians have done the same too, however the Progressive caucus has stayed silent on the issue, especially since the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), of which Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are part, have sided with the Cuban dictatorship.
Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar, both Republicans from the State of Florida with Cuban ancestry, have been the most active on the issue so far, tweeting videos and images coming from the island.
The White House has released a statement in which President Biden expresses his support for the protests: “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. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."
Alessandro B. Carelli