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2021 Cuban protests

A series of protests against the ruling Communist Party of Cuba and it's first secretary Miguel Díaz-Canel

2021 Cuban protests
Protesters marching in Havana on 11 July
Date11 July 2021 – present
(4 days)
Location
Caused by
Methods
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
No centralized leadership Miguel Díaz-Canel (First Secretary, President)
Salvador Valdés Mesa (Vice President)
Manuel Marrero Cruz (Prime Minister)
Esteban Lazo Hernández (Assembly President)
Álvaro López Miera (Defense Minister)
Raúl Castro
(former First Secretary)
Number
Thousands (estimated)[4]
Unknown
Casualties and losses

1 protestor dead[5]

150 arrests (according to group Cubalex)[6]

The 2021 Cuban protests are a series of ongoing protests against the Cuban government and the ruling Communist Party of Cuba that began on 11 July 2021, triggered by the shortage of food and medicine and the government's response to the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic in Cuba.[7][8][4] 20 Minutos described the protests as the largest anti-government protests since the Maleconazo in 1994.[9] As of 14 July, one person has died during a clash between protesters and police.[5]

Background

In 2020, the economic situation in Cuba worsened. The Cuban economy contracted by 10.9% in 2020, and by 2% in the first six months of 2021.[10] The economic crises emerged from a combination of factors, including reduced financial support (subsidized fuel) from Cuba's ally Venezuela; the US embargo and US sanctions against Cuba; and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the country's tourism industry and led to a decrease in remittances from Cubans abroad.[11][3][12][13][10][14] The situation has also been exacerbated by inefficiencies.[12][10][3] The embargo, however, does not currently block the adquisition of food and medicines.[15] Deteriorating economic conditions led to reductions in Cubans' standard of living, shortages of food and other basic products,[14][16] a shortage in hard currency,[16] and persistent power outages.[11]

The government refused to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX initiative or buy foreign ones, opting to develop its own one instead, the Soberana 02.[15] The process was delayed and vaccine rollout was slow, which angered some Cubans and prompting their calls for more vaccines.[12][16] At the time the protests had broken out, about 15% of the Cuban population was fully vaccinated.[11] In 2021, COVID-19 cases began to surge in Cuba especially in the province of Matanzas; a situation that was further aggravated by the shortage of medicines and food.[17] The government responded by deploying more doctors to the province.[12]

The protests were also fuelled by dissatisfaction with Cuba's government[16][10] and its curbs on Cubans' civil liberties.[10][18]

Due to the evolving crises, a social media campaign using the hashtags #SOSCUBA and #SOSMATANZAS was initiated to collect money, medical materials, food and other supplies to be sent to Cuba.[17] Various international figures such as Don Omar, Ricardo Montaner, Alejandro Sanz, Nicky Jam, J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, Becky G, and Mia Khalifa joined the request.[19] The Cuban government recognized the crisis describing it as "very complex" but rejected a proposed humanitarian corridor and described the campaign as an attempt to misrepresent the situation.[20] Cuba set up a bank account to receive aid and said that it was open to receive donations, though the designated account is in a Cuban bank under United States sanctions. According to Miami Herald, historically, the government has refused or seized aid coming from Cuban exiles.[12][20]

Protests

11 July

Anti-government protesters destroying a car of the National Revolutionary Police

On 11 July 2021, at least two demonstrations emerged in San Antonio de los Baños, near Havana, and Palma Soriano, in the province of Santiago de Cuba, singing the song "Patria y Vida" (Homeland and Life). The song's name is an inversion of the Cuban Revolution motto "Patria o Muerte" (Homeland or Death). Videos of protesters singing slogans of "Freedom", "Down with communism", and "We are not afraid" were broadcast on social networks in addition to protesters demanding vaccines.[21][22] Opposition media outlets such as Martí Noticias have published social media videos of protests on the Malecón in Havana, Santiago, Santa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Bayamo, Guantánamo, San José de las Lajas, Holguín, Cárdenas.[23] According to Orlando Gutiérrez, an exiled dissident of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, there were protests in more than fifteen cities and towns in Cuba.[24] Gutiérrez asked the United States government to lead an international intervention to prevent protesters from being "victims of a bloodbath".[24][25][26] The San Isidro Movement called on the protestors to march to Malecón in Havana.[21]

Pro-government counter-protesters in Cienfuegos

Cuban president and Communist Party first secretary Díaz-Canel said that the United States' embargo against Cuba and economic sanctions were responsible for the conditions that led to the unrest.[10][27] He urged loyal Cubans to take to the streets in counter-protest to respond to the demonstrations, saying "The order to fight is given, the revolutionaries to the streets" in a special television broadcast.[9][21] The Cuban government called the protests "counterrevolutionary".[28] Younger Cubans comprised the majority of protesters, while some members of older generations responded to demonstrations, assisting Cuban authorities.[13]

Following First Secretary Díaz-Canel's statements, about 300 government supporters arrived at El Capitolio; Miami Herald reported that one Associated Press (AP) cameraman was assaulted by these counter-protesters while a separate AP photographer was injured by police.[12] AP photographer Ramon Espinosa was detained by authorities as well.[12] San Antonio residents reported that the police repressed protesters and detained certain participants.[29] In videos circulated on social media, people were seen throwing stones at police while reports of authorities beating demonstrators were heard.[12] By the evening, protests had dissipated.[13]

Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez reported that after the protests on 11 July some were injured and there were hundreds of detentions.[30][31]

12 July

On 12 July, more protests were reported in Cuba.[32][33] A journalist from the Spanish newspaper ABC was arrested[34][35][36][37] and a group of protesters destroyed a painting of Fidel Castro.[33] Internet watchdog NetBlocks reported that social media platforms in Cuba were censored beginning on 12 July 2021 though virtual private networks were able to bypass government blockages[38] and with a police presence in the streets of Havana. According to SwissInfo, dozens of women gathered in front of police stations to inquire about the whereabouts of their husbands, children and relatives arrested or disappeared during the events of the previous day.[39] Faced with the accusations of missing persons, Díaz-Canel stated: "They have already come up with the fact that in Cuba we repress, we murder Where are the Cuban murders? Where is the Cuban repression? Where are the disappeared in Cuba?"[40]

A meeting of the top leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba including former First Secretary Raúl Castro was held where the issue of the protests was addressed, releasing a statement that "the provocations orchestrated by counterrevolutionary elements, organized and financed from the United States with destabilizing purposes, were analyzed".[41]

Díaz-Canel accused the United States of using a policy of "economic asphyxiation [to] cause social unrest" in Cuba.[42] Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla labeled the protesters as "vandals".[43]

Authorities blocked access to social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook and Instagram.[44]

13 July

An American 501(c)(3) organization Cuba Decide estimated a toll of five deaths during the protests.[45]

During a live interview with the Spanish television program Todo es mentira, Cuban YouTuber and activist Dina Stars was detained by Cuban security officers.[46][47][48]

In Miami, Florida, US, protesters temporarily blocked the Palmetto Expressway in both directions in order to show support for the Cuban protesters.[49] Some newspapers reported that the protesters were in violation of a Florida anti-riot law; however, none of the protesters have been charged and Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis said he did not think the law applied.[50][51][52]

14 July

The webpage CiberCuba releases a video where a group of "Black Berets", the Cuban police, break into the house of a demonstrator and shot him right away, in front of his wife and children.[53]

Deputy Minister of the Interior of Cuba Jesús Manuel Burón Tabit, resigned after questioning decision-making within the ministry and the Security Council, as well as what he called the excessive use of police force to repress the demonstrations.[54]

Reactions

Protest against the Cuban government in Naples, Florida, US

Governments

A protest against the Cuban government in Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • President Alberto Fernández said that he did not know what was happening in Cuba and blamed the humanitarian crisis on the United States embargo against Cuba.[55]
  • President Luis Arce expressed his support for the Cuban people who "fight against destabilizing actions".[56] Former President Evo Morales accused the United States of launching a new Operation Condor.[57]
  • President Jair Bolsonaro commented that it was a sad day for Cuba because people requested freedom and received shots, attacks, and prison instead. He said that there are people in Brazil who support Cuba, Venezuela and "those kinds of people".[58]
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the repression in order "to silence protesters who peacefully claim greater freedom, better health system and better quality of life". It also added that "freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must be guaranteed."[59]
  • China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian called for the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba which he said was responsible for shortage of medicine and energy in the country.[60]
  • President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged foreign governments not to intervene in the internal affairs of Cuba and stated that it is the Cubans who solve their problems. In addition to this, he also said that if they want to help, they should help end the blockade.[61]
  • President Daniel Ortega sent his expressions of support to Miguel Díaz-Canel, condemning the "permanent blockade, destabilization and aggression" against Cuba.[62][63]
  • Interim President Francisco Sagasti supported the protesters to "express freely and peacefully" and invoked the Cuban authorities to "consider their requirements in a democratic spirit".[64]
  • Maria Zakharova, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, stated that they "consider it unacceptable for there to be outside interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state or any destructive actions that would encourage the destabilization of the situation on the island."[65]
  • Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a statement was issued recognizing the right of Cubans "to demonstrate freely and peacefully" and that "forms of aid that could alleviate the situation" will be studied.[66]
  • President Joe Biden said that he supports the Cuban people and their "clarion call for freedom and relief".[67][68] Julie J. Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the United States Department of State, stated: "We are deeply concerned by 'calls to combat' in Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence."[12]
  • President Luis Lacalle Pou expressed his support for the opposition protesters, saying they had "commendable courage."[69]
  • President Nicolás Maduro expressed "all the support to the Cuban revolutionary government" on a phone call to president Miguel Díaz-Canel.[70]

Supranational organizations

  • EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said that "the Cuban people have a right to express their opinion" and that he would "personally call on the government there to allow peaceful demonstrations and to listen to the voice of discontent from demonstrators".[71]
  • Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned the "Cuban dictatorial regime for calling on civilians to repress and confronting those who exercise their rights to protest".[72]

Human rights groups

Érika Guevara-Rosas, director of Amnesty International for the Americas, said that "Amnesty International received with alarm reports of internet blackouts, arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force – including police firing on demonstrators – and reports that there is a long list of missing persons."[2][73] Amnesty called on the government of Díaz-Canel to respect the right of peaceful assembly.[21]

Others

Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio demanded President Joe Biden to call on Cuba's military to support protesters while Democratic Senator from New Jersey Bob Menendez said the United States should "stand in solidarity with the brave people of Cuba that are risking their lives today for change in their country and a future of Patria y Vida".[12]

Mauricio Macri, former president of Argentina, distanced himself from Alberto Fernández and gave his full support to the demonstrators: "I want to support the Cuban people in the streets requesting the end of the dictatorship and an improvement of their life conditions. Let them know that all the people in the continent and the world who shave the value of liberty are with them". Similar messages were delivered by Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, mayor of Buenos Aires, and María Eugenia Vidal, former governor of the Buenos Aires Province. Macri also signed a letter of IDEA (Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas), alongside other former presidents.[74]

Cubans residing in Chile marched to the Cuban consulate in Santiago in support of the protests.[75] Protests in Miami urging United States to provide aid for the protests in Cuba have taken place.[76] Mayor of Miami Francis X. Suarez, a Cuban American, said it was time for a US-led international intervention in Cuba, saying "We are asking the federal government to do everything possible and not waste this moment" and that "this moment can mean freedom to so many in the hemisphere, from Nicaraguans to those who suffer under the Maduro regime in Venezuela".[12] Demonstrations also took place at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain.[23] In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a protest took place in front of the Cuban embassy in Buenos Aires with protesters holding placards with the phrases "Patria y vida" and others with the slogan "S.O.S. Cuba".[77] In São Paulo, Brazil, political parties and social movements staged a protest in favor of the Cuban government and "in defense of sovereignty" in front of the Consulate General of Cuba.[78]

See also

References

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