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Economy, Covid and oppression: Why Cubans are taking to the streets in biggest anti-government protests in over 3 decades

Besides the concomitant hardships that the pandemic brought in its wake, the country also suffered from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the administration of former US President Donald Trump.

Cuba witnessed one of the biggest demonstrations seen in over three decades as thousands of protesters. They shouted “Freedom”, “Yes, we can” and other anti-government slogans as they took to the streets in cities in the small island nation on Sunday and protested against food and medical shortages, along with the bungled handling of the coronavirus outbreak by the country’s communist regime.

The eruption of discontent, among the most remarkable manifestation of dissent since the Cuban revolution of 1959, was an unusual sight in a country that has been under the ham-handed rule of the communist party for over 60 years.

Cuba witnesses biggest demonstrations in over three decades

In a country where oppressive measures by the communist government are par for the course, the unprecedented demonstrations were nothing short of astonishing. Experts who track Cuba closely said it is the first time since the so-called Maleconazo uprising in the summer of 1994 that Cubans have shunned their homes and come out to protest against the excesses meted out by the government.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with the police across the country, with dozens of them being detained participating in demonstrations that were fuelled by a foundering economy, regular power outages and a spiking coronavirus outbreak.

The protest rippled through across the country, from cities to rural counties, speaking to the power of social media, as well as the latent discontent that was brewing amidst the worsening coronavirus pandemic. The protests appeared to have started in the city of San Antonio de Los Baños and spread like wildfire across the country as demonstrators took to social media services like Twitter and Facebook Live to broadcast their protest against the Communist regime.

People take part in protests in the Cuban city of Havana(Image Courtesy: Al Jazeera)

The protests were so massive and extraordinary that it forced President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who succeeded Raúl Castro this year as the first secretary of the Communist Party, to make a clarion call to the “revolutionary” citizens of Cuba to take to the streets and salvage their country.

US president Joe Biden took note of the swelling demonstrations in neighbouring Cuba and expressed his solidarity with the protesting Cubans. He urged the communist regime in Cuba to heed their call for freedom and provide relief from the stifling grip of coronavirus outbreak and the decades of repression.

Why are Cubans protesting against the Communist regime?

Cuba is 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, as per information compiled by the non-profit Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

For some time now, Cubans have been feeling the heat of economic distress. The country’s economy was in shambles and the onset of the pandemic only precipitated the downturn. The recent protests have their roots in the acute economic crisis in Cuba, where the pandemic has wreaked havoc for the tourism sector, one of the most important sources of revenue that shores up the Cuban economy. In addition, public discontent is also at an all-time high because of the paucity of basic food items and medical supplies. The economic adversity was also compounded by coronavirus-induced lockdowns, because of which many Cubans could not keep their jobs as businesses were shuttered for months on end.

Crowds in Havana throng important centres in the city to mark their protest against the Communist government(Image Courtesy: AP)

Besides the concomitant hardships that the pandemic brought in its wake, the country also suffered from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the administration of former US President Donald Trump. Staggeringly, Cuba’s economy shrunk by 11 per cent in 2020, its worst performance in three decades, leading to severe shortages of some basic goods, including rice. Economy Minister Alejandro Gil admitted that it may take years for the country to fully recover from the sharp plunge.

People in Cuba were stoically enduring the hardship caused by the economic mismanagement of the communist regime. However, their financial woes exacerbated as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, necessitating strict lockdowns and a clampdown on economic activities. The protest gained momentum after several celebrities started tweeting with the hashtag #SOSCuba and holding President Miguel Díaz-Canel responsible for the current predicament.

The protests were seen just a few days after the Cuban government announced that its home-developed vaccine called Soberana was about 91 per cent effective against symptomatic patients of COVID-19. It is noteworthy to mention that Cuba has so far not imported any COVID vaccines and has instead administered its population with experimental vaccines, as a part of “intervention studies”, said a report published in Reuters. The report said about 1.5 million of the country’s 11.2 million people have been fully vaccinated thus far.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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