The historic and spontaneous protests that rocked Cuba on July 11 surprised the Communist government – and the international community – with their intensity and number.
Many analysts agree that there will likely not be any immediate changes in the country’s one-party communist regime. But experts said it was a watershed moment that marked a “before” and “after” the protests – and they put enormous pressure on the government to speed up reforms.
As residents of Cuba protested over food and medicine shortages amid higher numbers of Covid-19 cases, rising prices due to inflation and hour-long power outages, many also chanted “libertad” (freedom) and “We want change”, while holding signs that read: “Down with dictatorship.
In a country like Cuba, where the government has significant control over many aspects of life, including industries, wages, imports, and commodity prices, everything is intertwined.
Freelance journalist Yoani Sánchez tweeted, “We were so hungry, we ate our fear.”
Were the protests large enough to change the country’s one-party political system?
“I think some caution is in order,” said Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.
He said what was remarkable about the protests was that they could not be predicted and were decentralized in their course.
“This was not requested by the opposition, let alone by the government. It just happened, ”Bustamante said. “I think it takes some real challenges if you wanted to channel that into something. How do you do this?”
Arturo López-Levy, a former Cuban Interior Ministry analyst and assistant professor at Holy Names University, said he did not expect major political changes in the near term. But he added that the protests put pressure on the government “to make economic changes and liberalize politics within the one-party system.”
In other words, said López-Levy, it could open the door for more than one candidate to run within his one-party system by allowing an independent candidate to run, much like the Iran allows moderate and conservative candidates to run for office.
Other changes could include devolving responsibilities from central government to provinces and requiring authorities to identify where those arrested are being taken, which was approved in the 2019 constitution and which authorities currently do not comply with. .
The protests shook the government. Raúl Castro – the 90-year-old brother of the late Fidel Castro who recently retired as Communist Party leader – has come out of retirement to attend a mass government rally. President Miguel Díaz-Canel has gone so far as to blame some responsible for the current crisis, but only after calling on government supporters to come out and fight during the protests. The call to battle has further annoyed many Cubans. The Cuban government has repeatedly criticized the decades-old US government’s economic embargo for catalyzing the conditions and shortages that led to the historic protests.
The harsh response against protesters by police and civilian supporters armed with batons has drawn international condemnation from the United Nations, governments and rights groups in a way not seen in years.
After more than 60 years of revolution and US sanctions, buildings in Cuba are collapsing and sometimes collapsing, and more than 60 percent of food is imported. This year, the island produced the lowest amount of sugar, an export the island had relied heavily on since 1908.
For years Cubans in search of a better life have immigrated to other countries. But for the first time, Cubans, especially the younger generations, are seeking change inside Cuba, exerting a level of pressure on the government never before seen in communist Cuba, and it comes at a time when it is not. there is no Castro in power.
“I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the prediction that this [communism] is coming to an end, ”said former Cuban diplomat Jesús Arboleya, professor at the University of Havana.
He said that no one can deny that there is significant opposition in Cuba.
“The problem is to find a way to channel these differences or this opposition through better channels,” he said.
People have drawn comparisons between the protests in Cuba and the protests that erupted in Venezuela and Nicaragua, close allies of the Caribbean island. Venezuela has a more organized opposition with a leader, Juan Guaidó, and they have staged massive and sustained protests in recent years. During the 2018 anti-government protests in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega’s government responded violently with force.
In both cases, dozens of people were killed and the rulers still have a firm grip on power.
“What is different from the protests in Cuba compared to those in Venezuela and Nicaragua is that Cubans have operated in a closed and repressive system for decades,” said Paul J. Angelo, Latin American studies researcher. at the Council on Foreign Relations. .
In other Latin American countries, protest movements have been common and recurring since the countries moved to authoritarian rule.
“Just as democratization processes across Latin America followed different paths and responded to different internal and external incentives during the 1980s and 1990s,” Angelo said, “the democratization processes of the 2020s will. also – if we can reach them “.
Analysts agree that the Cuban government will speed up economic reforms – such as more foreign investment – that were promised by then-president Raúl Castro, but not fully implemented. How far these reforms go and whether they include political changes it could depend on whether the protesters maintain the pressure and momentum that stunned so many on July 11.
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