What the Protests in Cuba Have to Do With Venezuela – Rafael Osío Cabrices | Caracas Chronicles

We’ve seen unrest around the world because of the pandemic and its economic impacts. But in Cuba this unrest sparked something more powerful: a call for freedom. The reasons involve Venezuelan oil production 

  Rafael Osío Cabrices | Caracas Chronicles

The forces of History like to play, once in a while, in unexpected places. For instance, the placid town of San Antonio de los Baños, close to Havana. Who would have imagined that on the hot morning of July 11th, that small town would spark the biggest wave of protests in the long history of the Cuban Revolution?           

As soon as people started sharing videos on social media of protesters taking to the streets to demand the government to provide immediate solutions for the dire economic situation and the pandemic, the unrest spread to the capital and at least 40 cities in Cuba. There was even looting in some cities and, of course, an immediate violent response from the Cuban regime. Deaths and the exact numbers of detentions haven’t been confirmed by independent media.

The last time something similar happened was in 1994, in the harshest times of the Período Especial, those years of humanitarian crisis that started with the collapse of the Soviet Union and ended with European investments and Chavista support (since 1999).

In 1994, Fidel Castro released pressure by allowing many people to jump to the sea and board boats to the U.S. Back then, the economic hardship was also the spark, but this time, additional factors are in place. Fidel Castro isn’t around, but uncharismatic and mediocre President Miguel Díaz Canel. Now, Cubans are overwhelmed also by COVID-19: On July 11th, when protests erupted, the government reported a record of 47 deaths in a day and almost 7,000 new cases. And now, a big part of the problem isn’t the absence of Russian oil, but the decline of Venezuelan oil imports. 

It’s The Economy, Asere/Buddy 

Cuba is experiencing a hard time, even for a socialist country. Chronic shortages, long lines and rocketing prices are back. The Cuban GDP lost ten points in 2020. The pandemic stopped the influx of tourists and with it, the income in foreign currency the country needs to import everything that Cuba doesn’t produce. Remittances from Cubans abroad face several restrictions because of the U.S. measures against the island, given that the Biden administration hasn’t changed the policies implemented by Trump to scale back the Obama approach. The Cuban government announced last month that it will temporarily suspend USD cash deposits in Cuban banks, forcing people to run to local banks and leave — in the hands of the government — the dollars needed to pay international debt and avoid default.

Díaz Canel hasn’t been able to advance the Chinese-inspired timid economic reform he and Raúl Castro promised to allow more space for entrepreneurship. And last but not least, Cuba is suffering the consequences of PDVSA’s demise. In San Antonio de los Baños, where the revolt started, people can spend 12 hours without power, just like in the horrible times of the 1990s Special Period.

In tropical Cuba, the continuous blackouts make everything difficult, just like Venezuela, because the power plants don’t have enough fuel to burn and produce electricity. In the past, Russian oil, and more recently Venezuelan oil (fuel oil imports to be exact), kept those old, inefficient, and highly pollutant plants working at a higher capacity. That fuel is one of the main reasons Cuba needs Venezuela so much. In exchange, the Cuban regime has provided, let’s say, technical assistance services to preserve political power forever, repress protests, organize the surveillance of its military and politicians, take advantage of socialist internationalism and alliances at the United Nations, and survive under international economic sanctions. Cuba needs Venezuelan oil to produce power and to access foreign currency (cash) by reselling. In the apex of the Chávez-Castro collaboration, Venezuela was exporting about 100,000 barrels a day to Cuba. According to the Caracas Chronicles PRR team, June 2021 exports barely reached 25,000 barrels a day (including crude oil and different kinds of fuel). Now, even when Maduro still has Cuba as a key ally that has to be paid for its multiple services to the revolution, the amount of oil Venezuela is sending to Cuba is clearly insufficient.  

Add these constant blackouts to the shortages, the pandemic, and the existence of the internet in Cuba — naturally under the control of the regime, but only to a certain point — and you’ll have a population that’s fed up, scared, and able to quickly spread videos of people defying police and demanding reform, vaccines, food, jobs and, well, freedom. 

What to Expect 

This protest would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But in recent times, Cuba has seen several cracks opening in the ancient stone walls of the sclerotic “Cuban Revolution”. Now, the island and the Cuban diaspora have several independent outlets that produce and spread quality journalism, a direct threat to the monopoly of the propaganda apparatus of the regime. After the Pope’s visit – while Fidel Castro was still alive – there’s been more flexibility for religious life and sexual diversity. More recently, the San Isidro movement, formed by artists and intellectuals to pressure for a national dialogue, and the rappers behind the protest rap song “Patria y vida”, have stimulated spontaneous protests in streets, baseball games, and official buildings.

Cubans are daring to speak up, but the dictatorship isn’t stepping back. On July 11th, Díaz Canel described the protests as a conspiracy organized in the U.S. and called “true revolutionaries” to take to the streets and quench them, which increased repression from organized mobs, police, and the military. The Armed Forces were deployed all over the country and it’s difficult to expect new protests in the short term, with public security forces on alert and detaining people by the dozens. Some international actors, such as President Biden, the OAS Secretary-General, and human rights NGOs, have condemned the repression. The Cubans are back home, absorbed by the everyday task of surviving without getting coronavirus, wondering what will be the cost of protesting. 

Cuba lacks a political opposition or alternative force that can organize the social rage into a democratic transition, and the regime is more able to control the country than Maduro in Venezuela. 

There is no reason to think this is the beginning of a Cuban Spring. The Palace of the Revolution isn’t falling like the Berlin Wall. However, what happened that strange Sunday is important. IT HAS NO PRECEDENT. It’s the eruption of unrest that feeds on many factors and involves the entire 11-million-people nation, with a high rate of young population that has no golden revolutionary times to remember and defend, and some of them have a smartphone in their unquiet hands.

Venezuelan oil imports aren’t going to significantly increase any time soon, since Maduro has commitments with paying customers. The blackouts and the hardships will continue. So, it’s likely that the Cuban regime will have to suppress unrest as much as it can while keeping pressure on Maduro to provide more oil. The Cuban revolution, that old master of Soviet-style mass events, isn’t used to having people gathering in the streets to chant slogans against it. We must expect it is getting nervous and, therefore, more disconcerting and violent.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/17/2021 at 3:28 am

    WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CUBA? The Protests Against the Communist Regime

    Street demonstrations came as the country’s economic crisis and the pandemic lead to deteriorating living conditions and shortages

    By Anthony Harrup and Santiago Pérez | The Wall Street Journal

    Cuban citizens took to the streets across the country for the first time in more than six decades to protest against deteriorating living conditions and the lack of basic goods and services, including medical attention amid increasing numbers of coronavirus infections.

    The protests, with thousands of people calling for an end to the 62-year-old communist regime, began Sunday in the western city of San Antonio de los Baños, later spreading to more than 40 cities and towns including the capital Havana.

    President Miguel Díaz-Canel deployed security forces across the country. His government also disrupted communications. Shortly after 4 p.m. local time on Sunday, state-run Etecsa, the country’s phone and network monopoly, halted internet service.

    In Havana, state forces were out in droves Sunday night, including so-called rapid-reaction brigades and Communist Party militants armed with heavy sticks.

    Some protesters were attacked, and more than 100 were arrested, according to activists. This week, hundreds of Cubans lined up outside police stations to look for missing relatives whose whereabouts were unknown.

    Cuba’s Interior Ministry said one person died Monday when a group of protesters attacked a police station in a town near Havana. It said a number of people had been injured in the incident, including police officials.

    In an effort to quell tensions, and lessen the acute shortages of food, medicine and other essential products that have angered Cubans, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced on Wednesday that such goods brought to the island by visitors would no longer be subject to customs duties.

    WHAT TRIGGERED THE WAVE OF PROTESTS?

    The Cuban economy contracted more than 11% last year amid the pandemic, which led tourism to dry up and brought about a drop in remittances from Cubans living abroad — both vital sources of income for families.

    Cubans stand for hours in line to buy basic goods such as chicken or bread, or even to take a bus. The island has been increasingly hit by hours-long electricity outages, and, in recent days, coronavirus infections have surged, according to authorities, putting a strain on the country’s health system.

    After suffering relatively few Covid-19 cases in 2020, and only 146 deaths, the island saw a pickup this year, with the curve steepening in April and more so in June. The government has reported more than 1,600 deaths so far.

    WHAT HAS BEEN THE COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE?

    Mr. Díaz-Canel said the protests were being led by a minority of “counter-revolutionaries, sold out to the U.S. government”, taking advantage of the difficult situation in Cuba and the pandemic.

    He urged supporters of the regime to take back the streets from the demonstrators, which led to attacks on protesters. On Monday, authorities cut off most communications with the outside world and deployed security forces across the country.

    Among those arrested were visual artist Luis Manuel Otero , a highly visible figure among Cuban dissidents, poet Amaury Pacheco, and José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Cuba’s most important opposition group.

    WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CUBAN REGIME?

    Since taking power in a 1959 revolution, Cuba’s communist regime has weathered a number of economic and political crises, while remaining defiant against calls for change in the face of the U.S. economic embargo. The unraveling of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought about a so-called special period, one of the worst economic contractions in Cuba’s history. The loss of Soviet economic backing led to severe food and fuel shortages that crippled economic activity.

    In more recent times, the island has seen diminished support from once oil-rich Venezuela, which provides cheap oil to the island in exchange for doctors, teachers and other advisers. Venezuela faces its own economic crisis under socialist leader Nicolás Maduro and is also subject to U.S. sanctions.

    An easing of U.S. sanctions against Cuba under the Obama administration, which had promised to bring more tourists and dollars to the island, was reversed by the Trump administration, leading in turn to a hardening of the communist government’s position.

    HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM PREVIOUS PROTESTS?

    The demonstrations are unprecedented in Cuba. For the past six decades, Cuba has been a country where protests have been virtually nonexistent. All protests were quickly suffocated. Protesters this time appear willing to stand up against the government.

    A long-time Communist Party apparatchik, Mr. Díaz-Canel is seen by many Cubans as lacking the charisma and revolutionary legitimacy of his predecessors — Fidel Castro, the emblematic leader of the 1959 revolution who died in 2016, and his brother Raúl Castro, who succeeded Fidel as president but retired in 2018.

    Earlier this year, Mr. Díaz-Canel also assumed the top job in Cuba’s ruling Communist Party.

    SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BEEN AN ESSENTIAL FACTOR IN ORGANIZING THE WAVE OF PROTESTS. Relatively new to the island, it has empowered a young generation of Cuban activists who use it to spread their ideas and organize protests. As demonstrators sought to broadcast the current protests live with their cellphones, authorities cut internet service on several occasions Sunday. Kentik, a U.S.-based network monitoring company, reported countrywide internet outages that day.

    Mobile and fixed-line phone service were also selectively cut off, crippling communications and blocking the internet signal from activists’ cellphones, they said.

    WHAT HAS BEEN THE U.S. RESPONSE?

    President Biden voiced support for the protesters on Monday, calling it a “clarion call for freedom and relief.”

    The Cuban government has responded to past crises by allowing mass emigration to the U.S., but U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said Cubans attempting to reach the U.S. by boat won’t be allowed in.

    Mr. Díaz-Canel on Monday blamed electricity outages, as well as shortages of food and medicines, on the U.S. embargo and the restrictions reimposed by the Trump administration that cut off Cuban access to hard currency. He called on the Biden administration to remove the sanctions.

    In Florida, home to many Cuban-Americans, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Mr. Biden to help provide internet to Cubans on the island. But such effort would require equipment on the ground to get the signal. The government strictly controls imports of such equipment.

    “We’re considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access,” Mr. Biden said. He said his administration is considering allowing for more remittances to Cuba and sending Covid-19 vaccines, but needs assurances that the Cuban government wouldn’t take advantage of the assistance.

    WHAT DID BLACK LIVES MATTER SAY ABOUT THE PROTESTS?

    On Thursday, Black Lives Matter called on the U.S. government to end the U.S. embargo on grounds that it is “cruel and inhumane”.

    “The people of Cuba are being punished by the U.S. government because the country has maintained its commitment to sovereignty and self-determination,” it said in a statement.

    The U.S.-based organization also noted that Cuba “has historically demonstrated solidarity with oppressed peoples of African descent.” But it made no reference about the dozens of Black civil-rights activists and demonstrators who were detained on Sunday and Monday, among them Messrs. Otero and Pacheco. About one-third of Cuba’s population is of African descent.

    The group’s statement sparked controversy in the U.S., where politicians such as Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio lashed out at the organization.

    Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  • brandli62  On 07/17/2021 at 4:57 am

    Cuba is survived relying first on the Soviet Union and then on Venezuela. Both are essentially gone. Russia, with a GDP less than Italy, is unable to food the bills and China doesn’t see anything valuable in Cuba that would warrant pouring money into that economy. The Communists in Cuba either reform their economy or go down sooner or later.

    • Kmam  On 07/20/2021 at 2:31 pm

      Yes, but what about the sanctions?
      Cuba, like all the countries that stand up to America, will always suffer economically and otherwise. Other countries do not have the gonads to stand up USA.

      The Americans also need to reform.
      Though I am not a communist, l have to be on Russia and China’s side, when it comes to theUSA.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/17/2021 at 7:57 am

    Robert wrote:

    What the USA did to the Cuban people over the years has been cruel and in my view criminal. If they had allowed Cuba to flourish, the people would have found their way back to democracy.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/17/2021 at 10:34 am

    Former Brazil President, Lula addressed the Cuban crisis, but like Argentine President Alberto Fernández, he drew the spotlight onto the US trade embargo:

    ”Americans have to stop with that grudge; the blockade is a way of killing human beings who are not at war. What is the United States afraid of? I know that one country is trying to interfere with another; Biden should take advantage of this moment to announce on television that he is going to adopt the recommendation of the UN countries and end this blockade,” Lula said on social media.

    Merco Press

    • Chris  On 07/17/2021 at 2:27 pm

      It’s high time for the US to butt out of the world’s business. And it’s time for them to stop acting like a global police force.

      They have caused more harm than good everywhere they have meddled in. What they should do instead is focus on their on internal problems and try to fix them.

      They have rampant poverty, homelessness, racial injustice, police brutality, and last but not least, they are making it difficult for people to vote, especially in Republican states. Yet they want spread democracy to the world.

      The Castros are no longer in charge. It’s about time they end the cruel Cuban embargo. It hurts innocent people on both sides, but particularly the Cuban poor. End the humanitarian crisis!!!

      Enough is enough!

      • Dennis Albert  On 07/17/2021 at 8:57 pm

        AmeriKKKa spreads democracy by b0mbing them into ashes, like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and using a proxy for Palestine.

        Guyanese tell me that they do not believe that there is a future for younger generations if Republicans get it their way.

        They also believe that the Democrats don’t act in their interests, but it’s better than getting shot by a racist cop or white nationalist who speaks Russian or Polish and getting blamed for it for looking “Islam” or “Arabian”.

  • Dennis Albert  On 07/17/2021 at 9:00 pm

    The irony is that the same Americans who preach that Cuba should be b0mbed into ashes like Iraq, are the ones who vacay there every year and live middle to upper class lives.

    I’m telling you: These AmeriKKKans, Canadians and British people only want these tropical countries for themselves. They want the non-white population to be reduced in number like the early days of the Native Indians.

  • beautifulbarbadosblog  On 07/18/2021 at 2:13 am

    Obama started to do a small act of good that should have been carried further. Trump is gone, does Biden have the wisdom or gumption to press forward? He can undo Trump move as easily as Trump did Obama’s, and develop workable relations with Cuba. It is not impossible.

  • brandli62  On 07/18/2021 at 6:34 am

    Leaving the US sanction policies aside, why do you have to put people in jail in Cuba that voice dissenting opinions about the government and how the economy should be run? Why are people killed that demonstrate against food shortages? Why cannot Cubans open up their own businesses?

    After more than sixty years of Communist rule in Cuba, I still do not see women or people of color in leading positions. They are all old white men associated with the Castro brothers.

  • wally n  On 07/18/2021 at 11:37 am

    “Trump is gone” ?????Haaaaahe did not even have time for an underwear change. Give it a break, Trump or no
    Trump, Cubans are not supporters of the Democrats, there are no votes for Democrats from Cubans, very progressive, business people, check Florida.
    Allow them to enjoy freedom, from that Communist Socialist crap, Cuba could change overnight.

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