On Sunday July 11, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in various small towns and cities across the island. Chanting “Abajo la dictadura” and shouting for freedom, they also carried homemade cardboard signs demanding equitable and efficient access to COVID-19 vaccines, food, medicine, water, and electricity. Many signs read “No tenemos miedo” (we are not afraid).
The impromptu protests were picked up by and promoted through social media; there had been no such wide-scale demonstrations since the balseros (rafters) crisis of 1994. President Miguel Díaz-Canel immediately condemned them as creations of “the United States and the enemies of the revolution in Miami.” He did not stop with mere accusations; Díaz-Canel also urged his supporters to take to the streets and confront the nonviolent protesters. The head of the armed forces ordered the military police—in uniform and out—to respond with force. The protests have continued, on and off, and the government has arrested hundreds, if not thousands, of marchers all across Cuba (it has also released some in the last couple of days). But getting accurate numbers can be difficult, according to Amnesty International, since Cuba does not allow international human rights organizations to visit the island.
What are these island-wide protests about? It’s important that we do not misunderstand them. They are a culminating response to a variety of issues: the U.S. embargo that has been in place since 1962 (which, by the way, does not restrict the sale of food and medicine); the inhumane and reactionary restrictions imposed by the Trump administration; and, most significantly, the oppression by the failed Cuban state, which ceased to be “revolutionary” long ago. After sixty-two years, a younger generation, mostly citizens of color, are tired of being governed by a single party controlled by white, well-fed, middle-aged and older men. The Cuban people have the right to demand changes in their government and to organize new political parties and independent labor unions, the right of freedom of association and of a free and independent press.