Havana, Cuba By Monday morning, the streets in the 10 de Octubre neighborhood of Havana had been cleared.

The only sign of the violence the previous night was that the old man in torn work clothes cleared the last bit of dust from the road, leaving only gray spots on the dropped bricks.

However, the street headed south to the outskirts of Havana, leading to the beautiful Church of Jesus del Monte on the top of the hill, where almost unheard of protests took place in the Cuban capital on Sunday.

After the first rally in the town of San Antonio de los Banos, outside Havana, other protests were held across the country. The protesters chanted “Libertad”-freedom-and “Patria y Vida”, Motherland and Life. This is an interpretation of the revolutionary slogan “Patria o Muerte”, which shows that the revolutionaries are willing to die for the motherland. “We are not afraid,” they also chanted.

Videos and news of the protests were spread through social media, triggering further demonstrations in the 1,250-kilometer country.

Thousands of people marched

In the province of Santiago de Cuba, people marched in the town of Palma Soriano. According to reports, riots occurred in Santa Clara in the central part of the country and Cardenas, a small town hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests spread so fast that the government seemed caught off guard, and President Miguel Diaz Canel broke into all the shows-including the Euro 2020 football final-calling for people to take to the streets Defend the revolution.

Under high security, he appeared on the streets of St Antonio de los Baños, where he called the protesters “providers” and hinted that they were fooled by counter-revolutionary forces backed by foreign powers. “We call on all revolutionaries, all communists in this country, to take to the streets,” he said later when he appeared on television.

Ramiro Valdes, 89, who fought side by side with Castro and was promoted to vice president before retiring earlier this year, said on Twitter that the protesters were “outlaws serving the empire, Follow the instructions of its owner”. Given that the vast majority of protesters are young people, his comments indicate that there is a clear generational split in Cuba.

Diaz Canel appeared in San Antonio de los Banos apparently in response to the last major protest in Cuba, during a special period in Cuba in 1994, when the economy collapsed after the withdrawal of financial support from the Soviet Union. The then President Fidel Castro appeared on the famous Malecon promenade in Havana to talk to the protesters.

The echo of hunger at that time is now evident.

On July 11, anti-government protesters marched in Havana, Cuba, against the continuing food shortage and high-priced food [Eliana Aponte/AP Photo]

Growing problem

Over the years, due to lack of investment and growing obsolescence, Cuba’s problems have been slowly increasing-but the pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Last year, the tourism industry plummeted and the economy shrank by 11%, which is believed to be much worse now.

Many Cubans are either directly engaged in tourism, or staying close to the border, earning enough income to support their families, or relying on money sent from abroad. All these sources of cash have dried up.

At the same time, the government unified the two currencies it operates-the Cuban convertible peso pegged to the U.S. dollar and the Cuban peso. This is seen as a long-term need for restructuring-the system protects outdated and inefficient Cuban industry-but it is at the heart of the crisis.

This move makes the U.S. dollar return to a universal currency. In order to increase the hard currency needed to pay for imported goods, the government transfers many necessities to so-called “MLC” stores, where only hard currency—that is, foreign currency—is accepted.

As the peso’s exchange rate against the U.S. dollar and euro fell to half or less of the official exchange rate, the black market immediately established itself. The long queues in MLC stores also mean that there is a food black market.

These transactions benefit those who obtain foreign currency, although the increase in food costs means that those who own dollars pay for bread, eggs, and medicines that are roughly the same as before (other items, such as milk, are almost impossible to obtain).

However, for the people on the other side of the transaction, they must use the earned pesos to buy foreign currency, and the prices of food and medicine have doubled, and then doubled again. One protester after another told reporters on Sunday that they took to the streets because people were hungry and had nothing to eat.

The power outage now makes the problem worse. Due to the 60-year embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba, most areas of the United States are facing a power outage of 4 to 6 hours. The government says these parts are worn out and cannot be replaced. It also stated that there is a need to protect the power supply of hospitals handling COVID-19 victims.

Storm brewing

At 9 o’clock in the morning on Monday, the streets were quiet, and the state television station began to broadcast the meeting of the Council of Ministers. Local reporters asked the President, the Minister of Health, and the minister responsible for electricity and food supplies. Diaz-Canel blamed the “economic suffocation” of the United States for the protest.

He also opened fire on the protesters. “They threw stones at foreign currency shops and stole things,” he said, before calling their behavior “vulgar, indecent and illegal.”

Since the beginning of the demonstration, Cubans have been complaining about the island where the Internet has been shut down. At the same time, social media on the other side of the Florida Strait was on fire. The Cuban community in southern Florida called for “intervention” and held a rally outside the iconic exile restaurant Versailles.

On July 11, a police car was overturned on the streets of Havana [Yamil Lage/AFP]

The Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, told the crowd: “The United States and the international community must do something now. The Cuban people need medicine. They are starving. They need international help.”

Michael Bustamante, a veteran Cuban observer and assistant professor of Latin American literature at Florida International University, responded to a more extreme call for intervention on Twitter: “This will not help.”

US President Joe Biden (Joe Biden) said in a statement: “We stand with the Cuban people and they strongly appeal to benefit from the tragic control of this epidemic and the decades of repression and economic suffering they have suffered. Freedom and liberation. The autocratic regime in Cuba.”

Outside the Zanja police station, the night before the police faced the yelling protesters, they occasionally rushed into the crowd to arrest people. The detainee’s family members are now sitting patiently.

The sun is shining, but above Havana, a dramatic summer storm is gathering.


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