CWA Commentary

Photo Source: Cristóbal Herrera-EPA-Guardian
   NIAS Course on Global Politics
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
For any further information or to subscribe to GP alerts send an email to subachandran@nias.res.in
Print Bookmark

CWA # 547, 10 September 2021

Conflict Reader
Two months of Cuban protests: Is the ‘revolution’ ending?

  Lokendra Sharma

The largest protests in three decades have exposed the simmering discontent in Cuban society. Even though it is unlikely that the ‘revolution’ would end anytime soon, Diaz-Canel’s failure to address genuine demands will weaken it.   

On 11 July, thousands took to the streets in Cuba, mostly in the capital Havana and in Santiago. They were protesting against President Diaz-Canel’s led communist regime. The protestors called on Diaz-Canel to step down and also chanted "freedom". There were instances of violence, looting and clashes with the police as well. However, compared to other contemporary protests in Latin America and elsewhere, protests were largely peaceful.

The economy is in tatters today. In 2020, the economy contracted by 11 per cent. Hunger has increased, economic opportunities have dwindled, electricity supply is unreliable. People are also unhappy with the government's handling of the pandemic and medicine shortages. 

It has been two months since Cuba was rocked by protests. Why did the protests break out in a country where masses rarely express their displeasure with the regime so openly? Do protests signal the beginning of the end of the Cuban ‘revolution’ that started in the late 1950s? 

Three causes of protests: Pandemic, Currency reforms, and the US sanctions
While the protestors did raise demands for political reform, the primary trigger for protests was the deteriorating economic situation and accompanying hardships for the masses. Three factors contributed to the economic slide. First, the pandemic (with ensuing lockdowns and restriction on international travel) hit Cuba’s tourism industry, which contributes US dollars and other foreign currencies to reserves. Pandemic also created demands for expenditure, especially on medical imports. These factors, along with rising shipping charges, dwindled the foreign reserves, making it difficult to import food. Cuba relies heavily on food imports; it imports 70 per cent of the food it consumes. 

Second, Cuba ended the unique dual currency system on 1 January 2021. For the last three decades, there were two currencies — the peso and the convertible peso. The former was a regular currency, while the latter was tied to the US dollar. Even though the benefits of such a system are debatable, it did result in economic inefficiencies and confusion. When Cuba scrapped this system in January 2021, it disrupted the economy, driving up inflation and a shortfall of basic goods and services. 

Third, the US sanctions.  While they have been in place for the last six decades, the Trump administration tightened it, affecting the already reeling Cuban economy due to the pandemic. It also dampened the recovery efforts. Biden administration was expected to undo the sanctions; it has not happened and is unlikely to happen in the near future. Post the protests, Biden has announced a new set of targeted sanctions against certain Cuban government officials and warned that more are to come. 

Heavy-handed State response
The spirited protests were met by an equally determined regime response. In the ensuing crackdown by the regime, hundreds were detained by the police forces while one protester died. According to rights group Cubalex, more than 400 people are still detained. And the propaganda machine immediately laid the blame on the US for fomenting protests in the country. Diaz-Canel even called-on all revolutionaries to hit the streets. On 17 July 2021, Diaz-Canel and former President Raul Castro led a march of thousands of supporters in a show of strength. As social media played a key role in the organisation of the protests, the Cuban regime introduced Decree 35 on 17 August, with the aim of tightly controlling what Cubans expressed on social media platforms. 

While the protests did look promising on that historic Sunday of 11 July, they have since petered out. This owes in part to the heavy-handed regime response, but also to the characteristics of the protest. As happened in Colombia in Latin America, and Thailand in Asia, the protestors were very fragmented. It included groups as disparate as socialist democrats, right-wing pro-US outfits, artists and disillusioned youth among others. And there is no leader.

‘Cuban Revolution’: Is it over?
Irrespective of whether the 11 July protests were a success or failure, they did challenge the regime and the ongoing ‘revolution’. Would they lead to end of the revolution? 

If the revolution is to be understood as a process that began in the 1950s which over time led to the consolidation of power and reach of the Communist Party of Cuba and its machinery, then the revolution is definitely not ending anytime soon. Cuba’s communist ‘party-state’ is very resilient, with history on its side. It has survived the six decades of inhuman sanctions, CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this background, the protests, which have already petered out, and bereft of a leader or movement unity, would not lead to the demise of the regime. 

One thing that made the Cuban revolution, and the regime, different from other such revolutions and regimes elsewhere was that it enjoyed considerable domestic legitimacy. Partially because of the US imperialist approach towards Cuba, and partially because the regime scored well on health and education indicators, an average nationalist Cuban sided with the regime. And this is reflected on the streets, which have mostly remained quiet historically. 

However, things are changing now. 11 July protests were the results of long-simmering discontent in Cuban society. People have been suffering from basic amenities for more than a year now. And while the US has certainly played an interventionist role historically not just in Cuba but in the wider Caribbean and Latin American region, these protests are largely homegrown. The Government's claims that these are counter-revolutionaries falls flat when the participation of socialist democrats is accounted for.

The regime’s response to this discontent, spearheaded by President Diaz-Canel, is only going to weaken the revolution because it will snatch away from the Cuban regime what other communist regimes always desired — domestic legitimacy.  Failure to address genuine demands for change and reform, of both political and economic nature, will only keep the Cuban society perpetually at the edge. 

The above commentary was first published as a part of the NIAS Conflict Reader.


About the author
Lokendra Sharma is a PhD scholar in the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. He is currently researching in the field of Technology and International Relations. As part of the Science, Technology and International Relations programme at NIAS, he closely follows developments in Latin America.
 

Print Bookmark

Other CWA Publications

NIAS Europe Monitor
October 2021 | CWA # 573

Chetna Vinay Bhora

Europe's Energy Crisis: It could get worse. Five reasons why

read more
The World This Week
October 2021 | CWA # 572

GP Team

China's hypersonic tests, Russia's Afghanistan summit, and EU's Poland challenge

read more
Conflict Weekly 93
October 2021 | CWA # 571

IPRI Team

One year after Samuel Paty's killing, Kidnapping in Haiti, and Instability in Sudan

read more
NIAS Fortnightly on Science, Technology & International Relations
October 2021 | CWA # 570

STIR Team

Cover Story: War against Malaria

read more
The World This Week
October 2021 | CWA # 569

GP Team

India-China military dialogue, G20 summit on Afghanistan, and China-Taiwan tensions

read more
Conflict Weekly
October 2021 | CWA # 568

IPRI Team

ISIS violence in Afghanistan, and Targeted killings in J&K

read more
East Asia
October 2021 | CWA # 567

Aswathy Koonampilly

Japan: New Prime Minister, Old party

read more
The World this Week
October 2021 | CWA # 566

GP Team

Europe's Energy Crisis

read more
Conflict Weekly
October 2021 | CWA # 565

IPRI Team

Anti-Bolsonaro protests in Brazil, UK-France fishing row, Talks with the TTP in Pakistan, and the anti-abortion law protests in the US

read more
NIAS Fortnightly on Science, Technology & International Relations
October 2021 | CWA # 564

STIR Team

The Science and Politics of Materials

read more
The World This Week
October 2021 | CWA # 563

GP Team

Biden's infrastructure bill trouble in the US, and a new Prime Minister in Japan

read more
NIAS Europe Monitor
September 2021 | CWA # 562

Sourina Bej

France: Paris Terror Trial

read more
NIAS Europe Monitor
September 2021 | CWA # 561

Harini Madhusudan

Belarus: Weaponization of the Migrant Crisis

read more
NIAS Africa Monitor
September 2021 | CWA # 560

Apoorva Sudhakar

Africa’s Stolen Future:Child abductions, lost innocence, and a glaring reflection of State failure in Nigeria

read more
Conflict Reader
September 2021 | CWA # 559

Vineeth Daniel Vinoy

Afghanistan: Who is who in the interim Taliban government? And, what would be the government structure?

read more
The World This Week
September 2021 | CWA # 558

GP Team

The Quad reinvigoration, UN General Assembly meeting, Elections in Russia and Canada, and another political turmoil in Tunisia

read more

Click below links for year wise archive
2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018