By Marcel Kunzmann and Stephen Wilkinson

Update on the happenings in Cuba #1

Update on the happenings in Cuba #1

By Marcel Kunzmann and Stephen Wilkinson


On Saturday 17 July, six days after the disturbances and small street protests that captivated news media across the world, some 100,000 Cubans gathered outside of the American Embassy on the Malecon seafront in Havana to express their support for the Cuban revolutionary government. Similar gatherings were arranged in every city across the island. The world’s media largely ignored the events as they occurred but images shared on social media showed citizens of all ages and considerable numbers of young people expressing their support for the socialist government peacefully.


Pro-government rally Havana, 17/07/21

The President Miguel Díaz Canel and the national hero Gerardo Hernández, one of the so-called Cuban Five who had been imprisoned in the United States for alleged espionage, addressed the crowd in Havana. The former President and still General of the Armed Forces, Raúl Castro was also present but did not speak. His presence was significant. Among the many disingenuous pictures and tweets that had been spread the week before was one that purported to show Raúl Castro escaping the ‘uprising’ by alighting a plane in Venezuela. That had been proven to be a picture taken two years ago when he visited Caracas.

In terms of the social media coverage of the events, it has become increasingly clear that there is substance to the Cuban government’s claims of outside interference. There is evidence that the demonstrations were at least amplified if not instigated or coordinated by entities in Miami using social media bots and trolls. The Cuban media has published evidence to show that servers located in the US, the UK, Spain and France were involved in the spreading of millions of tweets and bombarding the island’s internet with misinformation that led people to believe that a massive uprising was under way. The Cuban authorities claim that it was only after pictures of the initial demonstration in San Antonio de los Baños were transmitted on Instagram that other demonstrations started.

It is now estimated that several thousand people took part in the protests in total across some 60 locations in the island. Most of these numbered in hundreds and even scores of people. Although some were shouting anti-government slogans, many others were angry about economic issues. Power outages that had not been announced in advance, the increasingly threatening pandemic situation and the ongoing shortage of medicines and food were the prime complaints.

The Cuban authorities claim that the violent incidents that occurred between police and the protestors resulted from riotous behaviour from the protestors themselves. Cars were overturned, a health clinic robbed and shops looted. Pictures and videos of protestors violently attacking those who came out to protest in favour of the government have circulated. According to some sources 200 arrests of suspected perpetrators have been made while others have claimed as many as 5,000 people were detained, although how many may have been released already is not known. In the days afterwards, apparently to deter further demonstrations, government supporters carrying clubs were seen in the streets of the neighbourhoods where the events occurred.

In the attempted storming of a police station in Havana’s suburb La Güinera by mostly younger demonstrators, one person died and several were injured on Monday. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, the victim was a 36-year-old with several criminal convictions. The ministry expressed its regret in a press release and announced an investigation. The incident marked the end of the escalation on the streets.

While they were not large enough to represent a threat to the Cuban political system or constitutional order, these were the largest public protests against the socialist government since the so called “Maleconazo” in 1994 when several hundred protestors threw stones at police and ransacked a tourist shop in the Hotel Deauville. They have also highlighted a significant feeling of despair and anger in some sections of the population with the way the government is performing. Several Cuban commentators have focused on the failings and errors of the government and the need to deal with these.

Cuban government responds to demands

On Wednesday (14 July) evening, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, together with other cabinet members, made a critical reappraisal of the events and announced several immediate measures, including easing the import of food and medicines.

“Consequences must be drawn from the unrest,” said President Díaz-Canel on Wednesday in a live broadcast, promising a “critical analysis of our problems so that such events do not repeat themselves and the situation change.” four groups of participants were given: “counter-revolutionaries, criminals, dissatisfied and young people.” The concerns and wishes of the latter, in particular, “did not always receive sufficient attention,” admitted the president, and described their protest as “legitimate”. “Criminals and dissatisfied people are also part of our people. And it pains us that there are people who have this attitude. There are breaks that we have in our confrontation with certain social problems ”said the 61-year-old president. Cuba’s problems, however, would have to be solved by the Cubans themselves.

He added: “None of this that we denounce today separates us from the necessary self-criticism, from the pending rectification, from the profound review of our methods and styles of work that collide with the will to serve the people, due to the bureaucracy, obstacles and insensitivity of some that hurt so much.”

Díaz-Canel said that in the case of young people in particular, they must be carefully checked and, if necessary, their origins in problem areas must be taken into account.

The social networks had developed into sources of disinformation and hatred, including calls for murder, he alluded to the temporary shutdown of the Internet. “Our society does not generate hatred, the feeling of the Cubans is a feeling of solidarity,” said the President and called for “peace, cooperation and mutual respect despite different points of view on different issues”.

The institutions should achieve better results and dedicate themselves more to work in the neighbourhoods, the penal system and the re-socialization of prisoners also needed changes. The revolution was made to give all people prospects of improving their situation. “Give us the opportunity to prove, without blockade and under the same conditions, that we are able to solve our problems independently,” he said with a view to the United States, which he said had interfered through media campaigns and social networks.

As Prime Minister Manuel Marrero explained, the government is currently working flat out on “solutions for the people” that are intended to improve the supply situation. The electricity supply has relaxed: Cuba’s largest power plant, the “Termoeléctrica Antonio Guiteras” in Matanzas, had been feeding electricity back into the grid 17 days after an accident since Tuesday. Repair work was speeded up to around the clock 24/7 shifts while the government was mobilizing all internal reserves.  The implementation of the ongoing economic reforms will continue. The following resolutions were presented in the two-hour special broadcast:

Abolition of customs duties on the import of food and medicines

  • Starting on Monday, July 19, private individuals can import unlimited amounts of food, medicine and hygiene products into Cuba. All tariffs on these products are suspended, the upper limit of imports is determined solely by the rules of the airlines. For people entering via Cayo Coco and Varadero, the current limit of one piece of luggage per passenger continues to apply due to the tense pandemic situation in the province of Matanzas. There is a limit of 10 kilograms per person for medication; these must also be imported in their original packaging. The measure will initially apply until December 31 of this year.
  • Expansion of the “Libreta coverage”: The state rationing booklet “Libreta”, whose role in the basic supply of the population with food and hygiene products increased further in the pandemic, should in future also be usable for people far away from the reporting point. In Cuba there are around 300,000 people who, for lack of official approval, have moved to other places without registering (most of them to Havana). Before the pandemic, some of them regularly commuted to the registered address in their home province to pick up their rations there. With the suspension of transport between the provinces as a result of the tightened corona measures at the beginning of the year, they were cut off from their purchases, others come from the east of the country and had to do without the heavily discounted products beforehand. Now there should be special permission with which you can shop in the state bodega shops where you actually live. The planned abolition of the rationing card introduced in 1962 is likely to have moved a long way off. In addition, medicines for the chronically ill will in future be delivered to their homes in order to ensure a fairer distribution in view of the shortage.
  • More autonomy for state-owned companies : The wage scales defined by the planning commission in state-owned companies will no longer apply . Companies can then tailor the design of the payrolls themselves to their respective needs within the framework of the available resources, which massively increases their autonomy in management. In this way, wage developments in the state sector should be more closely linked to the work result and more dynamic overall. The minimum wage of 2,100 pesos remains unchanged. The measure is to be introduced gradually, starting with the more efficient state-owned companies. The introduction of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the state sector is being accelerated, with private SMEs to follow shortly afterwards.

US reaction

For its part, the United States government shows no sign of easing the embargo measures brought in by the Trump administration that have exacerbated the problems being faced by the Cuban people and that have hindered the ability of the government to deal with the pandemic. The Biden administration is facing a great deal of pressure from the Cuban-American far right lobby to intervene militarily in Cuba. Republican senators and congressmen have been openly calling for such action. Having made a rhetorical commitment to spreading democracy worldwide, Biden therefore cannot easily take measures that might be interpreted as helping a communist government.

The President suggested that Cuba was a failing state, an opinion which, even on the most cursory survey of the reality, is extremely erroneous. If anything, in its response to the events of last week, the Cuban state has shown its continued legitimacy with the majority of the population. Biden also suggested that he might consider sending vaccines to Cuba on the condition that they were administered by an entity other than the government. This is a completely empty gesture since there is no other entity capable of administering vaccines. It is also nonsensical in that Cuba is able to manufacture its own vaccines and has all the personnel to administer them. What it lacks are syringes. A spokesperson for the administration reiterated the view of the president and attacked the Cuban government saying it was a communist dictatorship.

Cuba’s other close neighbour, Mexico, led by its socialist President Lopez Obrador has criticised the US stance and suggested that if Washington were really concerned about the Cuban people it would lift its embargo. Mexico has sent aid including 800,000 syringes to Cuba in recent days.

With the exceptions of Brazil and Colombia, currently the governments closest to Washington, the other countries in Latin America have also expressed the opinion that the US should reconsider its embargo. In many cities across the region large demonstrations have taken place outside the US embassy in support of the Cuban government.

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