“Fatherland or death”, they shouted in Cuba at the time of the revolution. Today, however, a different slogan resounds in the streets of Havana: “Homeland and life”. How times have changed since the Cubans freed themselves from a pro-American regime to become the (socialist) thorn in the side of the stars and stripes giant. Now the island suddenly (and unexpectedly) returns to the center not only of internal protests but also of the global geopolitical scenario. If it is true that the United States and China (with Russia in the background) are proposing a revised and corrected edition of the Cold War, Cuba is again (as in the first version) one of the crucial points.
Cuba, the reasons behind the protests
The Castro regime had not been the target of such strong protests for 60 years. And now it becomes, ironically, after the first signs of political transition, given that Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, has recently handed power to Miguel Diaz-Canel. But essentially nothing has changed. Rather. Civil, political and economic freedoms have not increased and Cubans have taken to the streets not so much for a single sudden event but for an accumulation of reasons. The recurring lack of electricity, the absence of food, a failing economy and, ultimately, the worsening of the pandemic crisis.
Cuba, as Trump has reversed Obama’s overtures
The situation in Cuba is complex to say the least. After the openings of Barack Obama, and the symbolic moment of the Rolling Stones concert, a season of opening and rapprochement towards the USA and the West was expected. But everything has changed. Donald Trump has changed policy by imposing harsh sanctions and the Cuban regime has returned to close in a hedgehog. Covid-19 did the rest, with the collapse of the tourism sector, one of the fundamental sectors of the island’s economy and the reluctance of the local government to buy serums from abroad meant that at the moment only 16% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The difference with the mass protests of the past
Already in the nineties, after the fall of the Soviet “great protector”, the Cuban economy was on the verge of collapse and there were massive protests. But now the use of the internet and digital media not only makes it easier to organize mass demonstrations but also allows you to see images of the repression of the authorities and security forces. The blocking of the internet is not considered strategic for now by the government, which collects about 80 million dollars a month from the very high connection rates, not to mention the transmission of remittances from abroad.
Diaz-Canel’s first timid openings, but anti-US rhetoric remains
Diaz-Canel is trying to give some concessions, for example by abolishing tariffs on imports of food and medicines. But the dominant rhetoric remains that of the crisis caused by abroad, that is, by the United States. The government blames all the responsibility for US sanctions, carried out “to destroy the socialist revolution”. This “complex situation”, said Diaz-Canel, has been exploited “by those who do not really want the Cuban revolution or a civil and respectful relationship with the United States to develop”.
Biden does not change Trump’s line on Cuba
A reference to the Trump administration, of course, which has imposed more than 200 measures against Cuba in four years. Also affected was Fincimex, which handles inbound remittances to Cuba. The sanctions had forced Western Union to suspend services with Cuba, leaving many Cuban Americans with no legal means to send money to their families. It was expected that Biden’s arrival in the White House could change the approach to the Cuban question. As with China, this was not the case. Rather. Biden confirmed all the sanctions and restrictions imposed by Trump, despite having guaranteed the opposite in the election campaign.
Biden, no dialogue: “Cuba has failed, give freedom to its people”
And in a very harsh speech in the last few hours he defined Cuba as a “failed state that represses its citizens”. Biden added that he is considering various options “to help the Cuban people, but would require other circumstances or a guarantee that these will not benefit the government.” It therefore appears clear that Biden will also maintain the Trumpian line and his line has been channeled not only on the political-diplomatic, but also on the ideological clash.
Russia and China: “The US is behind the protests in Cuba”
The opposition returns just like in the times of the cold war. Russia argues that behind the protests there is the willingness of the United States to foment a “color revolution” in Cuba, aggravating the economic conditions of citizens to favor regime change, as Kremlin spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. The same line as China, with the Beijing Foreign Ministry arguing that Washington uses sanctions as a political weapon.
Missiles are lacking for now, but the level of confrontation around Cuba is rising, with the two opposing sides taking sides. A scenario that does not simplify, but if anything complicates the solution of the question and above all drives away a better future for Cubans.