90 Miles from the United States Border, Communism is on America's Doorstep
Time to Free Cuba and Rid our Hemisphere of Communism
Why the Protests in Cuba?
Thousands of Cuban protesters, angered over food and medicine shortages, low COVID-19 vaccination rates and electricity outages took to the streets Sunday, July 12 and Monday for the first time in nearly 30 years. The protests are a rare defiance of the Communist government's intolerance for dissent.
On Wednesday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel for the first time acknowledged government shortcomings after previously blaming the unrest on social media and agitation from the U.S.
There was at least one death reported by officials in the unrest: Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, 36, died Monday according to Cuba's Interior Ministry.
Here's what we know so far about the demonstrations in Cuba:
Young protesters marched on Havana, the island's capital, chanting "We want freedom" and "We want vaccines." Demonstrations have also taken place in Miami, which has a sizeable Cuban and Cuban-American population
The protests were fueled in part by Cuba suffering its worst economic crisis in years, which has led to food shortages and high prices.
'We are fed up': - Thousands of demonstrators throughout Cuba protest shortages, rising prices
A mixture of the coronavirus pandemic, sanctions from former President Donald Trump and problems in the state-run economy have helped to cripple the Caribbean island.
Some protesters called for political change after six decades of Communist Party rule, beginning with Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959.
The last time there was a major demonstration in Cuba over economic hardship took place nearly 30 years ago in 1994, according to the Associated Press.
Police have arrested at least a dozen protesters and tear-gassed Cubans in response to the unrest. Cuban authorities blocked internet service during the weekend unrest to stem the flow of information outside the country.
Díaz-Canel warned protesters they would face a strong response on Sunday. "We are not going to hand over the sovereignty or the independence of the people," he said, reported the Miami Herald.
On Wednesday, he called for protesters to stop the violence during a televised address, while also taking some government blame.
“We have to gain experience from the disturbances,” he said. “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”
Before Díaz-Canel spoke, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced actions to improve the stability of the nation's national electricity system and customs flexibility for Cuban citizens to bring back food and medical supplies when traveling to foreign countries.
While former President Barack Obama thawed the United States’ tense relationship with Cuba, Biden has not lifted sanctions imposed on Cuba by the Trump administration.
President Joe Biden had promised to reverse Trump’s policies on Cuba during the 2020 presidential campaign.
"The Cuban regime under President (Miguel) Diaz-Canel will likely sharpen its response at some point, complicating any sort of opening to Cuba on which Biden campaigned," Ryan C. Berg, an expert on Latin American at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told USA TODAY.
"At the very least, these protests – their size, scope, and their organic nature – will force the Biden administration to think more deeply about Cuba, which was a back burner issue for the administration."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the United States is "assessing how we can be helpful directly to the people of Cuba."
However, Biden advisers have also said the administration was reviewing its Cuba policy and signaled that no changes were imminent.
Biden expressed support for the Cuban protesters.
“The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime,” Biden told reporters Monday. “We call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba.”
John Suarez, executive director at the Center for a Free Cuba, said the protests are a direct response to the Cuban government's policies.
“What's causing the troubles in Cuba is the internal blockade that the regime has placed on Cubans,” Suarez said. “That's why the Cubans are protesting the regime. They’re not out front of the U.S. Embassy protesting the U.S. embargo, they're protesting the government because they know who's responsible for what they're suffering. It's not an accident.”
Jaime Suchlicki, director at the Cuban Studies Institute, said Cubans are appreciative of support they're getting from outside the island.
"They appreciate any support that comes from the outside that curtails the power of the Cuban government, that allows them to operate, that allows the freedom and more respect for human rights," Suchlicki said.
“Cuban Americans feel strongly about what's happening. It's been 60 years of a dictatorship in the islands, so therefore they're expressing their points of view and trying to influence policy," Suchlicki added.
Cuban athletes in the U.S. who defected from the island are using their platforms to support protesters in their home country.
At the MLB All-Star Game New York Yankees pitcher Aroldis Chapman and Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis García wore hats with the messages “SOS CUBA” and “Patria y Vida”, which means “homeland and life,” a play on the Cuban Communist Party’s motto of “homeland or death.”
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