Why are Cubans Rallying?
Updated: Feb 2
The small island nation of Cuba, with a population of about 11 million people, erupted into protests beginning on July 11th, 2021, over food and medicine shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the economic crisis in Cuba and the Cuban economy contracted by 11% in 2020. On July 14, 2021, in a speech to address these protests, the current Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel partly blamed the US blockade on the economic problems facing Cuba today. Thousands of Cubans attended a rally in Havana on July 17, to denounce the US blockade and show support for the current administration. The Diaz-Canel administration does not fully blame the United States embargo. It has taken steps to improve the economic conditions of the country. These steps have also shown that the President plans to further liberalize the economy to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis. For example, this year, the Cuban government eradicated the dual currency system, reduced subsidies for state-run enterprises, allowed the private sector to expand, and lifted the tax on food and medicine imports.
Today, there is an ongoing debate on whether the current uproar is the product of the illegal United States embargo on Cuba or whether 60 years of socialism and communism caused it.
Congressional progressives like Bernie Sanders have blamed the blockade for hurting the Cuban economy and have called for an end. Meanwhile, conservatives like Marco Rubio have claimed that the Cuban economic crisis is a product of its current form of governance. Previously, the Obama administration had provided some relief to Cuba by easing the United States sanctions against Cuba and had promised to bring in more tourists to the island. The Trump administration reversed these changes, which caused the Cuban government to double down on its stand of ending the embargo.
The United States colonized Cuba along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines following the war of Independence against Spain in 1898. Following this, Washington then imposed the Platt Amendment on Cuba. Under neo-colonial servitude, by 1950 corporate America became a major controller of Cuba’s sugar production, telephonic and electric services, and public service railways. In 1959, anti-imperialist revolutionists led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara overthrew the US-backed military dictatorship in Cuba under Fulgencio Batista. The new socialist regime nationalized Cuban resources, and the island then managed to reduce American corporate influence. However, the United States strongly opposed Fidel’s Model of Governance and took several steps to destabilize Cuba. On April 6, 1960, the then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, released a memorandum explicitly stating “that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba” in opposition to Fidel’s communist form of governance. The United States continues to justify this embargo with the justification that it came into existence because of the fear of a Cold War even though the USSR fell 25 years ago.
After the blockade was imposed on Cuba in 1960, its exports fell from a staggering 60% to merely 5% in 1961. It has been estimated that the blockade has cost the country more than $130 billion over the last 60 years. This blockade is considered illegal under international law. “A blockade — distinct from an embargo, by including imports and trying to coerce third-party countries — is a method of war that, under international law, is meant to take place during an armed conflict only. Legal scholars have argued that the blockade of Cuba is a serious violation of international law, not least for the fact that it is aimed explicitly at
forcing a change in government”. For 29 years constantly, the entire international community, 184 countries to be exact, have voted for an end to the United States' blockade in Cuba. The only two countries that voted in favor of continuing the blockade were the United States and Israel. Astonishingly, America’s role in interfering with the island of Cuba is not restricted to the blockade only. Big media houses and western news organizations played a significant role in spreading misinformation and dramatizing the recent Cuban protests. Multiple media outlets incorrectly used a picture of a pro-government rally with thousands of people to describe anti-government protests. The media portrayal has only worsened the conditions of these protests.
The biggest question that arises is, what have these protests and rallies achieved? The anti-government protests have been successful in pressurizing the Diaz-Canel government to take several steps to liberalize the economy such as easing custom restrictions, reducing subsidies for state-owned businesses, and removing the dual currency system. The pro-government rallies, on the other hand, have shed light on the cruel and unhumanitarian consequences of the illegal US blockade imposed on Cuba. A debate on this long-standing issue is overdue, and pressure from the US citizens could spur the Biden administration to rethink reversing strict measurements made through the blockade during the Trump administration. As one of the only five countries in the world that implements a communist model of governance, the socio-economic success of Cuba poses a viable alternative to the current capitalist-heavy model of governance accepted within the US. It is not to say that Cuba has a perfect model of governance. The country does have internal political issues that need to be addressed and resolved. Cuba also faces economic problems, but these problems do not exist in isolation. They have been exacerbated by the US blockade, and more recently, by the Covid-19 pandemic. Do these socio-economic problems justify the illegal blockade imposed by the USA on Cuba? The Cuban Island deserves a chance to prove itself free from U.S. interference.
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About the author: Vaibhavi Nagar is a second-year student of Masters in Diplomacy at Jindal School of International Affairs. I graduated with an Honors Bachelors in Finance & Accounting from the University of Texas at Arlington. My research interests lie in international development economics, global south studies, and climate sustainability.
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