Seemingly spontaneous protests broke out in Cuba on July 11, with demonstrations reported across the island—from Pinar del Río in the west to Santiago in the east. In Havana, hundreds gathered along the Malecón seawall, which was the scene of a brief uprising known as the Maleconazo in August 1994, amid the economic agony of the “Special Period.” The demonstrators later marched on the iconic Capitolio building. Slogans included “Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship,” “We are not afraid,” “Homeland and life” (a reference to the official slogan “Homeland or death“), and “Díaz-Canel, singao [jerk, asshole],” a reference to President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Emulating Fidel Castro’s response during the Maleconazo, Díaz-Canel went to San Antonio de los Baños, a town outside the capital where the protests began after long power outages, and issued an appeal to “the revolutionary people mobilized against the imperialist campaign and its salaried agents.” He concluded: “The order to battle is given: revolutionaries, take to the streets!” In Camagüey, there were reports of security forces opening fire on protesters.
The unprecedented outburst of protest comes as economic conditions in Cuba have deteriorated nearly to the crisis point of the Special Period in the 1990s. The island is also suffering its worst moment in terms of new infections and deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. (Havana Times, Havana Times, Cuba Encuentro, 14yMedio, In Defense of Marxism)
In a televised address, Diaz-Canel blamed the protests on “economic asphyxiation” as well as intentional subversion by the US. It is true that tightened sanctions instated under President Trump have been kept in place by Biden, contributing to harsh austerity on the island. In March, 80 US Democratic representatives urged Biden to repeal Trump’s “cruel” sanctions on Cuba and renew engagement. (Reuters, Reuters)
On June 23, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution condemning the United States’ six-decade embargo on Cuba. The US and Israel cast the only dissenting votes, with 184 nations voting in favor. The same resolution has passed easily every year since it was first introduced in 1992. Only once, in 2016, did the US, then under the Obama administration, abstain from the vote. (CBS)
The Cuban opposition seems to be itself divided on the question of sanctions. Prominent dissident Eliécer Ávila, who has been live-blogging the protests from Miami, led a counter-protest in Coral Gables on June 27 when Cuban-American activist Carlos Lazo of the group Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) held a demonstration against the embargo. (CiberCuba) Ávila also garnered controversy last year for his provocative pro-Trump rallies in the Miami area. (El Nuevo Herald, July 28, 2020)
Photo: Marcos Evora via Havana Times