By Marcos Martinez, 3L
Thousands of Cubans across the island flooded the streets to protest the regime’s handling of the dire economic conditions of the state. The series of protests stretching from July 11, 2021, to July 17, 2021, was the country’s largest anti-government movement since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the first major protest since the 1994 “Maleconazo,” an “extraordinary and spontaneous popular protest” that served as a prelude for the fleeing of more than 35,000 Cubans to the United States.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel quickly blamed the economic turmoil of the country on the United States’ decision to tighten sanctions, and declared that the protests were led by “counter-revolutionaries, sold out to the U.S. government,” capitalizing on the difficult situation in Cuba and the pandemic. This response to valid concerns for the direction of the country is nothing new for the regime, who have previously used Covid-19 regulations to “harass and imprison critics.”
The Cuban government had imposed strict lockdown measures last year that resulted in an 11% contraction in Cuba’s economy, paralyzing the country’s tourism sector. Moreover, the government prevented banks from accepting cash deposits in dollars, drastically reducing the remittances that Cubans received from abroad. Although the restrictions were effective at limiting Covid-19 infection rates to 12,500 cases in 2020, mounting economic pressure forced the government to reopen the country for tourism in November, resulting in an explosion of Covid-19 cases. The country faced 6,423 new infections the day the protests commenced.
In light of the pandemic, the Cuban government opted to produce its own vaccines instead of purchasing from foreign companies, citing the need to guarantee the nation’s sovereignty. Diaz-Canel took to social media to tout the success of the vaccine program, which the government asserts has produced two vaccines that have shown high efficacy against the virus. The two vaccines, Soberana 02 and Abdala, were distributed to the population before receiving approval from local authorities in response to the spike in Covid-19 cases on the island. The Abdala vaccine, however, requires three doses and no data has been provided by the government to prove its efficacy claims for either vaccine. Moreover, Cuba’s vaccine rollout has been stifled by a severe lack of syringes.
Deteriorating living conditions, including the lack of basic goods and medical necessities, and the enforcement of harsh Covid-19 regulations strengthened a deep-rooted resentment towards the government. The proliferation of social media across the island allowed for instant communication, and protests spontaneously erupted on July 11th. The regime responded immediately by cutting off internet service and deploying secret police, anti-riot forces, and Communist Party militants to squash the protests and arrest dissidents. International human rights organizations report that an estimated 700 people have been detained by the regime. The government has since passed Decree 35, an Orwellian measure targeting “misinformation” or “offensive” content that the regime does not want distributed across the island in hopes of preventing another uprising.