The Cubans took to the streets to protest against the Government. Although it is not something unprecedented, the magnitude reached by the mobilization is not unusual. And that has to do with an unusual combination of elements.
For Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, Cuban historian and professor at the Institute of International Studies of the Arturo Prat University in Santiago de Chile, there is no single factor in these protests. “The great political outbursts occur when contradictions overlap and converge at the same point,” explains Dilla Alfonso.
Power outage as a symptom
It all started with a new power outage in San Antonio de los Baños, a few kilometers from Havana. For some time now, the national electricity system has been failing.
Last week, the Unión Eléctrica de La Habana announced that the programmed cuts would be repeated due to the limitations to satisfy the demand due to the deterioration of the thermoelectric plants. Since June 21, Cuban society began to feel a series of cuts that have increased in recent days.
This Monday, the Minister of Energy, Liván Arronte Cruz, appeared with the president of Cuba at a press conference and argued that the damage to the thermoelectric plants was compounded by an increase in consumption. “We have had two fundamental factors: breakdowns in thermoelectric plants and a significant increase in demand in the last four days. This has caused an increase in the impact on electricity service,” he said.
With a pandemic and without tourism
Therefore, the lack of energy is only understood as a symptom of a delicate economic situation. Economic problems are not new to Cuba, nor do they have a single answer, but the suspension of tourism due to the pandemic made things even more complicated on the island. The lack of foreign exchange income has resulted in a lack of imported food, medicine and supplies. However, specialists highlight the lack of economic policies that offer a partial but immediate response to the problem.
“This economic crisis, unlike what happened in the mid-90s, does not have the subsidized consumption that guaranteed that people, badly or well continued consuming. That now does not exist. There is an important sector of society that does not have access to food and that pushes them to the black market, “says Dilla Alfonso.
This is the first impact uprising that the Cuban Government has to face without neither Raúl nor Fidel Castro in the Presidency. For Dilla Alfonso, Diaz Canel is not seen as the legitimacy of the old guard.
“This new generation has to fight for a legitimacy of performance, because they do not have legitimacy of origin. And that performance is what they cannot produce because the economic crisis is brutal.”
The response from the Cuban government was not long in coming. President Miguel Díaz-Canel gave two speeches in a row. One on Sunday afternoon where he called on the “revolutionary mass” to counter the power of the opponents in the streets. And another the following morning, in which he again asked the Joe Biden government to lift the economic sanctions against the island.
Mobilization of artists and intellectuals
“Homeland and life”, read on several posters. The slogan works as a counterpoint to the revolutionary slogan “fatherland or death.” The protesters took it from a theme made up of several artists who are part of the San Isidro Movement, a movement made up of a group of artists and intellectuals opposed to the Government who led the 2020 protests.
Although these latest demonstrations do not have a direct link with those of the end of last year, “they did manage to establish the idea that the street is a public space that can be used to protest. The street was before the ‘revolutionaries’ but this is changed by these movements “, explains Dilla Alfonso.
In Cuba, there has been a climate of protest for months since the arrest of rapper Denis Solís, when a police officer entered his home without a warrant and was detained. But the dimension that these protests took is explained, in part, by the use of social networks, which are currently collapsed, and by the dissemination of videos with the hashtag #SOSCuba and #SOSMatanzas. The slogans ranged from the request for food to political freedom.
For Dilla Alfonso, the Cuban government has the resources to resist against the protests. It has an extremely efficient repressive apparatus and 20% of society that still supports it, be it out of opportunism or conviction, and that has the capacity to mobilize. This does not mean that the government is going to collapse, but this is a before and after. ”