Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Cuba to protest the communist regime that has existed in the country for more than 60 years.
Why are people protesting now?
The diplomatically isolated island has struggled economically since the fall of the Soviet Union—on whom they were almost completely reliant—in 1991. Additionally, a decades-long trade embargo imposed by the United States has dramatically reduced opportunities for economic growth in the country, as Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. would make it an ideal trading partner. However, the suspension of European tourism—a huge chunk of Cuba’s economy—due to COVID-19 has worsened the situation significantly. And the fact that the country imports around 80% of its food has led to the worst food shortages in 25 years.
The country already has seen unrest this year, with a large section of the population calling for an end to the dictatorship and an expansion of civil liberties in the country.
Hundreds of Cuban-Americans living in Miami took to the streets to show solidarity with the protesters back home, with many prominent Cuban-Americans, including Marco Rubio and Miami mayor Francis Suarez throwing their support behind the movement.
Reaction from the Cuban government
Miguel Diaz-Canel—the current President of Cuba after Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, stepped down in 2018—has shown little desire to listen to the demands of his people. Instead, he has called on his supporters to “fight in the streets” against anti-government demonstrators. In a televised speech on Monday, Diaz seemed to give marching orders to his supporters, amid demands for his resignation: “We call on all the revolutionaries of the country, all the communists, to go out in the streets where these provocations will occur—from now on and in the next few days— and to face them in a decisive, firm and courageous way.”
Diaz-Canel has blamed heavy sanctions placed on the country by the Trump administration, as well as the ongoing embargo, as the underlying cause of the unrest. And he claimed the protests were led by mercenaries hired by the U.S. to destabilize Cuba. This assumption is in spite of the fact that the protestors have made it abundantly clear that they are protesting economic policies implemented by the government.
Biden unsure about a response
President Biden has said that the U.S. “stands firmly” with the protestors in Cuba, calling the anti-communist demonstrations “a clarion call for freedom.” But fears that the administration has not yet created a cohesive strategy—or decided whether to deviate from Trump’s aggressive policies—are growing. When asked about Cuba in March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.”
The civil unrest in Cuba comes as several other countries—including Haiti, South Africa, and Colombia—are grappling with major anti-government protests as the economic fallout from the pandemic is starting to show social consequences.