Recently, Cuba experienced unrest as citizens took to the streets to protest against deteriorating living conditions that were subjected to global scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic. Protestors called for an end to the communist regime that has been in place for 62 years. Many were attacked, beaten and detained by state forces that were heavily armed. Cuba's tourism industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing U.S. sanctions that increased inflation and shortages, limiting critical medical supplies and food. The widespread unrest marked a major test of leadership for Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, as he is the first head of the Communist Party of Cuba who doesn't belong to the Castro family, which previously ruled the island for six decades.
President Díaz-Canel responded by enacting a communications blackout via an internet shutdown. His administration also blocked social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This internet shutdown made it difficult for citizens or reporters to attain information, making the conditions on the ground unclear. Initial reports from human rights activist groups have recorded that more than 5,000 people were arrested or missing after the first line of protests. Videos and images of militants breaking into citizens’ homes and arresting protestors they suspected were involved in the protests have begun to slowly circulate on social media, according to The Washington Post. This was followed by counter-protests from citizens, not just government forces. Díaz-Canel finally spoke out on these events saying, “We have to gain experience from the disturbances.” He went on to say, “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition,” marking the first time a Cuban president has spoken out against their own government. The former Trump administration re-added Cuba to the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Some scholars consider this to be a strategic mistake for the U.S. government, as it limits some options in foreign policy and diplomacy. President Biden, on the other hand, has spoken out and announced that “we are on Cuba's side” but has yet to take major action.
The Meredith Herald asked students how they feel about current circumstances in Cuba. When asked how the U.S. government should respond to the protests, Juno Pilson, ‘25, stated, “The U.S. has a responsibility to lift these sanctions and attempt to alleviate the suffering of Cuban citizens as we have the resources to do so. I believe the U.S.’s hesitation is largely due to Cuba’s communist government but other people do not deserve to suffer because of the structure of their government that they are actively fighting against.” Jennifer Ramirez, ‘25, said she felt that more government involvement from other countries could help the situation. Kate Haun, ‘25, explained what she knew about the Cuban government. She said, “The government system in Cuba has caused their living spaces and basic goods to deteriorate because of the setup of the government”.
Avery Gardner, ‘25, said that she wasn’t aware that the Cuban president cut the internet to prevent pictures and videos of the protests from reaching social media. “I was not aware that the Cuban president had cut the internet and I think that is outrageous,” she said. “That's how you know you've done something wrong — when you aren't even letting people speak.”
By Evelyn Summers, Contributing Writer