Photo credit: REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Dear Friends,
On July 11, an unprecedented wave of protests took place in Cuba.  
The protests began in Havana, and as news spread, demonstrations also broke out in other provinces. Many protestors engaged in peaceful demonstration, while some committed acts of vandalism. Video footage reveals protestors calling for libertad, asking President Diaz-Canel to step down, and speaking out against hunger and scarcity. 
Backdrop: The protests come at a time of mounting tension and hardship, sitting atop many decades of tremendous historic pressures and trauma. The loss of tourism, combined with other economic impacts of COVID, and the increased U.S. sanctions (put in place by the Trump administration and left in effect by President Biden) have caused a significant contraction of the GDP, while currency reform has spiked inflation. Cubans are experiencing long lines and scarcity of food items and even medicine

The Delta variant of COVID19 has hit Cuba hard in recent month; as of yesterday, the 7-day average of new daily cases is 7,537. Unlike any other country of its size, Cuba has begun a vaccination campaign using domestically-produced vaccines, but many citizens are still waiting their turn and the country faces challenges obtaining all necessary materials for vaccine production and distribution.  
Cuban government response: Many news agencies and witnesses reported extensive use of police force and violence during the protests. One fatality has been reported. Police detained hundreds of protestors, many of whom are still being held. President Diaz-Canel acknowledged that citizens have legitimate reason to be dissatisfied and initially directed blame toward the U.S. embargo. He has since stated that his government must accept some of the responsibility and learn from mistakes.
What Cubans are saying: We have stayed in contact with Cuba Platform colleagues and friends since the protests, many of whom are now focused on analyzing the situation, taking care of themselves and their communities, and working internally on a resolution and pathway forward. 
Many Cubans have written publicly about the situation including:

  • Leonardo Padura who wrote in La Joven Cuba that the events of July 11 were the result “not only of a long economic crisis and current health crisis, but also a crisis of trust and a loss of hope,”
  • Ariel Dacal Diaz, who characterized the situation as a “structural crisis” and highlighted, among other things, the importance of “rebuilding hope as a political imperative.” 
  • Ailynn Torres, who reviewed some of the new necessary measures taken by the government since the protest, while also calling for a broader response and “extensive program of discussion and political transformation.” 
  • Rafael Hernandez who commented that the U.S. stance of opposition to Cuba “reinforces the hard line on both sides and damages the real exercise of freedom and human rights in Cuba.”
  • Beloved musician Silvio Rodriguez who, after an interview with arrested artist Yunior Garcia, called for the release of all who had not resorted to violence.  

External Response: Many Cuban-Americans joined demonstrations in the U.S. to protest the Cuban government and encourage intervention (a solution that, to our knowledge, few Cubans on the island are in favor of). The Biden administration called the protests a “clarion call for freedom,” and said that he was prepared to send vaccines – but only under certain conditions. Since then, the administration has announced that it is pursuing measures to restaff the U.S. embassy in Havana, ensure internet access, and review remittance policy – which was greatly curtailed under Trump – in order to ensure that funds go directly to the people. The administration has also begun to sanction individual Cuban government officials. 
U.S.-Cuba relations scholar William LeoGrande characterized Biden’s hesitancy to act as the result of a need to keep Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (who takes a hard line on Cuba) happy. 
After the protests, the Movement for Black Lives issued a statement of solidarity with Cuban people and the spirit of the Cuban Revolution. It was met with significant pushback from the Cuban American community, but MBL has maintained their call to end the embargo and organized opportunities for members to hear directly from AfroCubans in Cuba.
The U.N. called on Cuba to release arrested protestors.
We send love and solidarity to our Cuban friends and all Cubans who are working to understand this moment and forge a path forward, together. We stand with calls to encourage a productive U.S. engagement with Cuba, and against the perpetuation of cruel U.S. policies that actively seek to incite unrest and divide families.

It is time to end the embargo, which only adds to the division and conflict in the world. 

This message is the last official news update from the Cuba Platform, a four-year project which has now concluded. Next week, we will send an update on our new project, the Care Lab and ways to stay engaged. 
Take care – Sarah and Justine

About this newsletter: The Caring in Crisis newsletter began March 2020 and will continue through summer 2021. You can always return to past issues here. If you prefer to switch between English and Spanish editions, let us know. Please drop us a note anytime to let us know what you’d like to see more of and to share updates related to crisis-response, creativity and resilience from your corner of the world. We would love to hear from you.
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