Opinions & Features July 15, 2021 at 10:00 am

Why you have to hope Cuba gets better

Nii Ntreh July 15, 2021 at 10:00 am

July 15, 2021 at 10:00 am | Opinions & Features

For the first time in more than six decades, Cubans have turned to the streets across the nation to protest poor living conditions and a shortage of essential commodities and services. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP

What hope is there for a developing country getting crushed by a bigger bullish country? The Ghanaian Akan proverb that says ‘a woman who has no male (company) is the one we beat up/assault and walk away with impudence’ can be applied to the case of Cuba. But first, what is currently happening in Cuba?

For the first time in more than six decades, Cubans have turned to the streets across the nation to protest poor living conditions and a shortage of essential commodities and services, including medical care, as the incidence of coronavirus infections continues to rise. Aided by social media, thousands of people took part in the protests, which began in the western city of San Antonio de los Baos on Sunday and expanded to more than 40 cities and towns, including Havana, Cuba’s capital.

A man is said to have died during the anti-government demonstration, according to several sources. Amid food shortages and a serious economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus epidemic, protesters flocked to the streets to criticize President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s government. 

The immediate cause of the protests

The current wave of adversity for the Cuban people comes after the economy shrank by more than 11% last year as a result of the pandemic, which resulted in a reduction in tourism and a drop in remittances from Cubans living abroad, both of which are important sources of income for families.

Following a year of few Covid-19 cases and only 146 fatalities, the island had a rise this year, with the curve steepening in April and June. So far, 1,608 people have died, according to the authorities.

The root cause of the protests

It is hard to analyze Cuba’s economic troubles without mentioning the catastrophic economic impact of the US embargo over the past 55 years. The economic woes of the Island can be largely attributed to the US embargo against Cuba which is the longest restriction in modern history.

The embargo’s direct impacts have been felt in commerce, aid, and domestic economic activity. The 60 percent drop in Cuba’s gross domestic output since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 is one of the sharpest ever recorded.

Economic policies, rather than economic restraints, have been used by neoclassical economists to explain Cuba’s problems. By doing so, they apportion blame for Cuba’s poverty on Cuban authorities rather than the successive US governments that enforced the stifling embargo. Others point to Cuba as an example of why Socialism or Communism do not succeed. All of these coordinated attempts try to divert attention away from a serious examination of the Cuban situation.

Cuba, as a developing country, had little chance of prospering due to a lack of capital to invest in infrastructure and social services. The Island country adopted a socialist regime to adapt to unfair trade terms. They chose a centrally planned economy with a strong emphasis on state ownership because they believed it was the appropriate solution to those historical problems.

The Government’s response to the protest

The administration appeared to be caught off guard by the demonstrations, as President Miguel Diaz-Canel interrupted all programming – including the Euro 2020 football final – to urge people to take to the streets to protect the revolution.

Mr. Daz-Canel said that the demonstrations were being directed by a small group of “counter-revolutionaries who have sold out to the US government,” who were taking advantage of the country’s terrible position and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities shut off most communications with the outside world on Monday, July 12, 2021, and deployed security troops around the country. Several demonstrators, including visual artist Luis Manuel Otero, a well-known figure among Cuban dissidents, poet Amaury Pacheco, and José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Cuba’s most powerful opposition party, have been detained.

The authorities have partially interrupted access to social media and messaging services including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram, according to Netblocks, which analyzes internet disruptions and shutdowns. 

What has been the U.S. response?

The United States, like a nosy bully, has weighed in on the matter. In a statement released by the White House on Monday, President Biden expressed his support for the protestors. 

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” he said.

Way Forward

The way forward for Cuba is multifactorial. The attempt to crack down on protesters and social media is unfortunate. The authorities are responding to the grievances of citizens the wrong way. 

While the UN General Assembly has called on the US to abolish the economic, commercial, and financial embargo on Cuba for the 29th year in a row, only the US Congress has the power to do so and it might be a big part of the answer to the question asked in the first sentence.

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