ExplainerCauses of the protests in Cuba
- Last weekend saw the first mass anti-government protests in decades
- Cuba’s president has blamed the United States for the unrest
What are the protesters demanding?
Many expressed anger over long lines and shortages of food and medicines, as well as repeated electricity outages. Some demanded a faster pace of vaccination against Covid-19. But there were also calls for political change in a country governed by the Communist Party for some six decades. Some demonstrators chanted “Liberty!” “Down with the dictatorship!” and “Fatherland and life!” – a twist on the revolutionary slogan, “Fatherland or death!”
“It’s time for things to change. The situation is critical,” said Cristian Veliz, a 22-year-old construction worker.
Cuba sees largest anti-government protests in decades over coronavirus pandemic and economic woes
What set off the protests?
Cuba’s government blames hardships on US sanctions that it calculates cost the island US$5.5 billion last year, though the figure is strongly disputed by its critics. It also claims the US government and its enemies in the US of using social media tools such as Twitter to send messages organising the street protests.
Critics blame the government’s failure to shake up the eternally dismal state-run economy. While the government has created a series of broader openings for small-scale private businesses, they remain tightly controlled and limited. Cuba also has relied in recent years on tourism – income that has been devastated by the global pandemic – and on aid from ally Venezuela, which has declined along with Venezuela’s own economy.
A move this year to combine the country’s two sorts of currency into one also caused sharp inflation.
What was the role of social media?
How did the government respond?
When protests broke out Sunday in the town of San Antonio de los Banos near Havana, President Miguel Diaz-Canel quickly went to speak with residents. He also broadcast a call for “revolutionaries” to take to the streets in support of the government. Police moved in and arrested dozens of protesters, sometimes violently. A heavy police presence has continued in areas such as the seafront Malecon boulevard, the capital building and the sprawling Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. Smaller protests also occurred on Monday, and officials reported at least one death.
Cuba announced on Wednesday said it was temporarily lifting restrictions on the amount of food and medicine travellers could bring into the country in an apparent small concession to demands by protesters who took to the streets last weekend.
Rodriguez, the foreign minister, has demanded the US accept its role in fomenting unrest.
Joe Biden says US stands with Cuban people after biggest anti-government protests in decades
How has the US responded?
How has China responded?
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday said that “as the Cuban side has pointed out, the US embargo is the root cause of Cuba’s shortages of medicine and energy”. He noted that the Cuban leader had gone to see the protesters “and listened to the voices of the people”.
Additional reporting by Reuters