Protest rallies broke out in Cuba today as citizens took to the streets and voiced their discontent with the current government, as well as shortages of food and medicine that have grown significantly worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nation where dissent is often dealt with swiftly and brutally, the protests appear to have taken the government by surprise. The protest rallies took place in cities and towns around the country. Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín all saw protests, as did a number of smaller towns. Eventually, they came to Havana where a strong police presence was waiting. Thousands of people took part nationwide, making today’s protests the largest in Cuba since the Balsero crisis in 1994.
A shortage in COVID-19 vaccines seems to have been a contributing factor for today’s events too. Cuba has been setting record highs in the number of COVID cases of late. Efforts to control transmission of the virus have not kept up with the rise in cases. Cuba’s economy is also in the midst of a contraction. Economic sanctions and multiple layers of bureaucracy have combined to bring production in agricultural and essential food sectors to a near standstill. Of course, these problems are all symptoms of the main ailment facing Cubans: the authoritarian government in Havana.
It did not take very long for the Cuban government to lay blame for the protests at the feet of the United States. The next step in the government’s response will be watched closely by the US and other nations in the region. This is the first major test for Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel since he assumed power in April of this year.
For the US, the Cuba demonstrations could serve to bring about another test for the Biden administration which is now contending with Haiti and the aftermath of its president’s assassination last week.