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Sunday, August 1, 2021

protests in Cuba - has the last citadel of Communism crumbled !!

Olympics is around the corner .. .. remember Seoul Olympics 1988 ? – the    games were boycotted by North Korea and its ally, Cuba.  Cuba is in news for wrong reasons and the obvious Q is – has the last citadel of Communism crumbled down already ?

The Communist Party has run Cuba since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. For five decades, its leader was the fiery, anti-American revolutionary Fidel Castro. Castro led the country until 2008, when he fell sick and was succeeded by his more subdued younger brother, Raúl. The younger Castro, also a Cuban Revolution fighter, maintained  his party’s total grip on politics but liberalized Cuba’s Soviet-style economy, recognizing private property and allowing Cubans to run small businesses. He also cultivated a less antagonistic relationship with the United States during the Obama administration.

Now History is getting re-written.  Thousands of people in the small island nation of Cuba took to the streets on Sunday against the country’s communist government, in the biggest demonstrations seen in over three decades. Dozens of protestors were been arrested by the authorities in the demonstrations, fuelled by a collapsing economy and the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cubans are also complaining about shortage of food and lack of some basic medicines.  Street protests erupted across Cuba on July 11, with crowds of Cubans demonstrating against food scarcity, medicine shortages and economic misery in their island nation. Some demanded “freedom” and the end of “dictatorship” – anti-government sentiments that were soon echoed in the United States by Cuban-Americans and politicians, including President Joe Biden.

In a televised address, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed the spontaneous demonstrations – by far the largest mass protests in decades – on United States interference and threatened a “battle in the streets”. Protesters say hundreds were arrested. In fact, the protests were seen just a few days after the Cuban government announced that its homegrown vaccine called Soberana (Sovereign) was about 91% effective against symptomatic patients, as demonstrated in late stage clinical trials.  Cuba has not imported Covid vaccines, but its authorities have been administering experimental vaccines en masse as part of “intervention studies”, according to a Reuters report.  Other than Soberana, Cuba has four more vaccine candidates being developed. If approved, it might become the first Latin American country to produce and develop its own vaccines against the disease. However, concern over Covid has mounted as the arrival of the Delta variant has led to a spike in cases. Cuba reported 6,923 Covid-19 cases and 47 deaths on Sunday, double of what was recorded the previous week. The pandemic has been accompanied by widespread economic distress. 

Cuba has been an authoritarian communist state for more than six decades. It has a population of about 11 million people who primarily speak Spanish, and a GDP of $100 billion. Its per capita GDP is roughly $8,000 and it has a majority population of Christians, as per information compiled by the non-profit Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Apart from the pandemic, the country has suffered due to economic sanctions imposed by the administration of former US president Donald Trump. In 2020, the country’s economy shrunk by 11 per cent — leading to shortages of some basic goods including rice — which was its worst performance in about three decades.

U.S. President Joe Biden couple of days back, urged Cuba's communist government to end 'decades of repression and economic suffering' after thousands took to the streets in 'unprecedented' protests at the weekend.  The images of protests in Cuba that went viral on social media on Sunday prompted officials in the U.S. to call for an American-led intervention to topple the ruling government in Havana. Cubans marched on Havana's Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island to protest food shortages, restrictions on civil liberties, the government's handling of the pandemic and soaring inflation, which some economists believe could hit 900 per cent this year.  Biden has since urged Cuba's communist government to 'hear' the protesters and said the U.S. stands with the Cuban people and their call for freedom.  

'We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime,' Biden said in a statement on Monday. 'The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected.  US called on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.'

The strongly worded statement was sure to anger Cuba's leaders, who claim Washington is stirring up the rare mass street protests in the authoritarian country.  Now, Cuba has  announced that  it was temporarily lifting restrictions on travelers bringing food, medicines and hygiene products into the country in an apparent acknowledgment of demands from anti-government demonstrators.

The government's  inept handling of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, has marked the most significant unrest in decades. The rare wave of demonstrations against the country's communist government has been fanned by a deepening economic crisis worsened by the pandemic. Covid-19 has devastated the country's tourism industry, sending Cuba's economy into a deep slump. Cubans now spend hours in long lines to buy food and medicine, and lockdowns have left many without work. Driven by desperate conditions, migration is on the rise by both land and sea. Since the start of the 2021 fiscal year, the US Coast Guard reported intercepting around 500 Cubans at sea.

In a country known for repressing dissent, the demonstrations have been viewed as remarkable. US President Joe Biden on Monday expressed support for the Cuban people, urging Cuban President Miguel Diàz-Canel's regime to "hear their people and serve their needs."  The US, Canada and the European Union have condemned the arrests of political activists and journalists, demanding their immediate release. The Cuban Government has attempted to silence their [Cubans] voices and communications through internet shutdowns, violence, and arbitrary detentions of dozens of protesters, journalists, activists, and other repressive tactics," but people’s will against Communism seemingly is prevailing. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
15th July 2021. 

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