September 19, 2021

Economic crisis, Covid-19 … why Cuba is shaken by historic protests

‘Down with the dictatorship!’ Exceeded by the economic crisis, thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the country on Sunday July 11. Historic demonstrations of an unprecedented scale since the 1959 revolution caused by several factors including the economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and the development of the Internet.

In a televised address Monday, July 12, President Miguel Diaz-Canel acknowledged the ‘dissatisfaction’ that Cubans may feel, however he accused Washington of being in charge of the protests and called on his supporters to respond. in the street.

Four and a half years after the death of Fidel Castro and three months after the departure from power of his brother Raul, many Cubans, mainly the younger generation, now want changes. Many of them are therefore asking the president and leader of the Communist Party, Miguel Diaz-Canel, for a space for other forms of thought and a dialogue between different opinions. This generates political tensions with revolutionary partisans, determined to defend Fidel’s legacy at all costs.

Beyond these political demands, Cubans also want a better daily life and more economic freedoms to undertake, in this country where opening up to the private sector is progressing slowly.

• A serious economic crisis, made worse by the Covid-19

Cuba was already in crisis before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic on the island in March 2020. Two main reasons: the economic collapse of Venezuela, its main support, and the strengthening of the embargo by Donald Trump, which applied 243 additional sanctions.

Suspension of the Western Union service, the most used by Cubans to receive money from abroad, ban on American cruise ships from calling on the island, application of Title 3 of the Helms-Burton law which made flee many investors and banks: residents and the government quickly suffered from these measures.

Joe Biden has so far not backed down on this policy.

Added to this was the effect of the pandemic, which deprived the country of precious currencies from tourism, one of its main sources of income. The Cuban economy, already handicapped by the slowness of reforms and the red tape of its socialist system, saw its GDP fall by 10.9% in 2020, its worst decline since 1993.

• Endless queues, lack of currency …

For Cubans, the queues grew considerably, as food and medicine shortages worsened.

The government, in need of foreign exchange, has opened several hundred stores in dollars, a currency that residents receive from their families abroad or must buy on the black market, Cuban banks do not issue.

Its economic difficulties and several power plant failures also pushed it to cut off electricity for several hours a day, which would irritate the population in the middle of the tropical summer.

Another source of friction: the monetary unification reform that entered into force on 1isJanuary, which was certainly accompanied by a sharp rise in wages, but insufficient in the face of galloping inflation, expected between 400 and 500% this year.

• New wave of Covid-19

For a year, Cuba performed well in Latin America, posting a low rate of contagion and death. But in recent months, the numbers have increased, and even sharply in recent weeks.

The island now has 244,914 cases including 1,579 deaths, for 11.2 million inhabitants.

The good news is that scientists, with a long experience in the field, have developed five candidate vaccines, one of which received the green light from the national drug regulatory authority on June 26. Faced with the increase in cases, the authorities began to vaccinate in mid-May, and 1.7 million inhabitants are already immune.

• Internet, a new mobilization platform

The arrival of mobile Internet at the end of 2018 offered civil society, especially young people, a capacity for mobilization that surprised the government.

Thanks to social networks, Cubans have thus organized themselves to provide assistance to the victims of the tornado that hit Havana in January 2019.

But the Internet has also allowed several hundred artists to demonstrate for ten hours in front of the Ministry of Culture, on November 27, 2020, to demand more freedom of expression.

Sunday’s demonstrations were thus widely broadcast on social networks, causing a contagion effect across the country … and pushing the authorities to cut off access to mobile Internet.