The recent protests in Cuba, especially the large ones of July 11th that were nationwide, have provoked anguish in some, hope in others. Because I lived in Cuba for a decade, I have been getting calls and mails asking my opinion. The US corporate news is totally one-sided, treating these protests as if they are “the beginning of the end” of the Revolution. Those who read Spanish and have access to news in that language, have a more balanced picture. I am not there, and so I must rely on trusted friends to fill in a difficult picture.
At this point, this is what I think:
US administrations have erected a criminal blockade against the tiny island country for more than 60 years. This blockade has made it impossible for Cuba to function within the world economy, has curtailed its diplomatic relations with other countries, and has provoked shortages of everything from hard currency to food and medicine. Trump intensified this many-pronged war. Biden has done nothing to walk back Trump’s punishing regulations; on the contrary, he is singing the tired old song of “freedom for the Cuban people.”
On top of the extreme economic problems brought on by the blockade, the COVID-19 pandemic is out of control in Cuba at the moment. The country’s excellent biochemical industry has developed two proven vaccines, Soberana (91.2% efficacy) and Abdala (92.28% efficacy), and is attempting to vaccinate its entire population, but a shortage of syringes is making this a slow process. This is a palpable example of the damage wrought by the blockade. A recent breakdown of a major power plant caused frequent blackouts. Scarcities have gotten worse. Tropical storm “Elsa” added to the country’s problems.
Over the past couple of years, the Cuban Party and Government have instituted new laws benefiting the population and have made other positive changes. In the midst of such severe difficulties, a lot has been accomplished. But a lot is never enough. The Cuban people understandably want more comfortable lives. Free education, health care and other rights would be dreams in so many countries of the world (including the United States). But the Revolution promised so much more. And the younger generations have no memory of what it was like before 1959.
Add to this scenario the fact that Cuba has cracked down on artists and others who have protested the status quo, and you have a complex situation—one that will require good political strategies rather than repression to solve.
Cuba is rightly indignant at the US’s ongoing interference in its internal policies. It is clear that the protests are being organized and funded from outside the country, primarily from the United States. I believe all nations have a right to resist outside interference. I hope the resistance will soon take the form of dialogue rather than arrests.
To those who raise the banner of democracy with its multiparty political system, I would only say: Look to those countries, in the first place the United States, that have more than one political party and call themselves democratic. Here we have Democrats and Republicans, but I think a majority would agree that we elect most of our representatives according to how much of our money they pour into their campaigns. And I doubt that most people of color, other minorities, women, immigrants, or the LGBQT community would agree that our is a democracy in any real meaning of the term.
It is true that thousands have recently protested government control in Cuba. I believe they should be heard. At the same time, Cuba is a nation of eleven million. The recent protests are far from constituting a tipping point.
I urge people on all sides to think about how extraordinary it is that a tiny island 90 miles from US shores has been able to survive for more than half a century against every sort of covert and overt attack. Let us help Cuba become what its Revolution has promised rather than try to mold it to some specious image in which profit obliterates justice and equality.