Analysis: Protests in Cuba are unprecedented, but the future of newly rebel Cubans is anything but certain


Cubans are used to being infinitely patient and inventive in the face of often dysfunctional daily life and overwhelming shortages.

But in recent years, this ability to overcome unhappiness has been replaced by a ruthless reality that life has become as difficult as at any time in their besieged life.

Relations with the United States are often used as a barometer of Cubans’ optimism or pessimism about their future. When then-President Barack Obama said during his trip to Havana in 2016 that he had come “to bury the last vestiges of the Cold War in the Americas,” the people of the island urged sigh of relief.

They hoped that a long-awaited easing of tensions with Washington might lead their own government to relax some of the endless restrictions on life on the Communist-ruled island.

But less than a year after Obama’s visit, Donald Trump took office and abruptly ended decades of Cold War animosity between the two countries.

Trump limited the ability of American citizens to visit the island, canceled American cruise trips to Cuba, forced the only hotel run by the United States, cut the billions of dollars in annual remittances that many Cuban- Americans send home and put Cuba back on the list of countries that sponsor state terrorism.
Riot police march through the streets after a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, Havana, on July 12.

As Cubans reeling from increased sanctions and increasingly cautious crackdowns from their own government, the pandemic struck.

Tourism came to a screeching halt when the island went into total lockdown and Cubans abroad could no longer send medicine and money via “mules,” what Cubans call people who transport. items in the island in suitcases.

Increasingly strapped for cash, the Cuban government began to charge hard-to-find goods in foreign currency.

Food queues – already a daily ritual for many Cubans – wrapped around blocks and forced people to congregate as the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise.

For many Cubans, the choice was between being hungry and risking infection.

“Every day there are people here for everything there is, some days you don’t even know what products they’re going to sell,” said Rachel, who asked that her last name not be used. , as she stood in line for chicken. “You have to be here if you want to eat.

The government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first unnamed head of state since the revolution seized power more than six decades ago, has given frequent updates on the economic crisis, but even the highs managers seemed to realize that the presentations were not going well with an increasingly frustrated population.

“People don’t eat plans,” grumbled Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz during a televised meeting.

Will brute force work in Cuba this time?
Then on Sunday, something seemed to shatter among Cubans as protests unfolded across the island from town to town.

In San Antonio de los Banos, a town of about 46,000 people, west of Havana, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets, sated after nearly a week of blackouts during the sweltering heat of July.

“Everyone was on the streets,” a resident of the city, who did not want to be named, told CNN. “They spent six days on just 12 hours of feeding a day. That’s one of the things that blew it up.”

Soon, images of the remarkable protest and others across the island were shared widely on social media. Cubans began to take to the streets in the largest mass protest in decades, possibly since Fidel Castro’s revolution began in 1953.

In Havana, hundreds of demonstrators in front of lines of police chanted “freedom” and “homeland and life”, the title of a new song calling for change in Cuba.

“Crackdown is all we have,” one protester told CNN.

Even though anti-government protests are banned in Cuba, protesters did not appear to fear arrest.

The government responded by sending counter-demonstrators, some of whom chanted “I am Fidel!

People take part in a demonstration to support the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on July 11.

Police dragged dozens of protesters and forcibly detained them.

Videos shared on social media showed protesters pounding police cars with stones and even knocking over several vehicles.

On Sunday evening, heavily armed police and special forces soldiers regained control of the streets of Havana and other parts of Cuba.

The US and Cuban governments seemed stunned by the unprecedented protests.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this protest for a very, very long time, very frankly ever,” said President Joe Biden, whose administration has so far been reluctant to lift the punitive sanctions of the Trump era.
Biden warned the Cuban government not to crack down on the newly rebellious Cubans.

But on Monday, in another lengthy televised government meeting, Cuban President Diaz-Canel said the protesters were criminals.

“They stoned the police force, damaged cars,” he said. “Completely vulgar, completely indecent behavior.”

Cuban government officials said on Monday that there were no more protests as they set up an internet blackout that prevented Cubans from sharing the footage that sparked the protests in the first place.

It is anyone’s guess how long the precarious peace will last.

The government may have regained control, but the underlying conditions that led Cubans to risk everything and call for change are going nowhere.

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