Sunday, November 14, 2021

Why are Cubans protesting in Cuba and around the world?

Cubans are engaging in nonviolent protests both inside the island and in the diaspora on November 15th ostensibly to protest limitations on civil liberties in Cuba, and call for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. The Cuban dictatorship has prohibited peaceful protests on the island, and is ramping up repression, and strategies to stop the demonstrations. 

Protest on 11/14/21 at Cuban Embassy in Washington DC.

Although the main objective is the release of political prisoners, and defending civil liberties, the grievances run far deeper, and are too numerous to list in a single blog entry, but some highlights can be listed here for context and greater understanding.

1. Dictatorship's decision not to get foreign vaccines for Cubans in order to claim that Cuba was the first country in the world to vaccinate their entire population with homegrown vaccines caused many deaths.

Posted on Facebook by Tîcö Äwö Ôrümîlä, had to bury his grandmother in a mass grave in the Juan González cemetery, in Santiago de Cuba. (Screen capture)

Officials decided not to acquire vaccines from their allies, China and Russia, or sign up with the United Nation's COVAX program. Russian and Chinese vaccines became available in Latin America as early as February 2021. Reports of Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines reaching Latin America made news in early March 2021, but Havana declined them preferring to promote their still unavailable domestic vaccines while most other countries in Latin America did.

Official regime journalist Leticia Martinez Hernandez over Twitter on May 18, 2021 bragged that "Cuba will be the first country in the world to vaccinate their whole population with their own vaccines. Live to see!" She even replied to her own Tweet that she would keep the above "tweet fixed until then. I want to remember the feat on which we have bet." Havana's foreign ministry on June 9, 2021 repeated the same campaign theme as the official journalist: "Cuba could be the first country to immunize its entire population with its own vaccines. The population wants and trusts the vaccine candidates, our science, and the country's experience in vaccine development."  Officials rejected using alternative vaccines over the six months that they were available, because their  first "homegrown vaccines" had not been ready for clinical trials until May 2021 in Havana, and in the rest of the island until June. As of November 9, 2021 none of the Cuban vaccines have been peer reviewed. 

Cuban official statistics on COVID-19 infections and deaths are not reliable. Professor Duane Gubler of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore in the January 8, 2019 New Scientist report, "Cuba failed to report thousands of Zika virus cases in 2017", stated matter of factly that "Cuba has a history of not reporting epidemics until they become obvious." Doctors and journalists have been jailed in Cuba for speaking truthfully on past disease outbreaks.  Sarah Marsh, of Reuters, was reporting on June 17, 2021 that "coronavirus infections have halved in Havana since authorities started administering Cuba’s experimental vaccines en masse in the capital a month ago." Less than a month later Reuters was reporting that Cuba "has the highest rate of contagion per capita in Latin America." There are official denials, but independent reports of mass graves in Cuba for COVID-19 victims continue to circulate.

Following July protests in Cuba, officials in later August 2021 accepted China's sinopharm vaccine and began providing it to Cubans. This was at least seven months after it had already been distributed in the rest of Latin America. Why didn't Havana do this beginning in January or February when the rest of Latin America did and Cuba did not have "home grown" vaccines? Why are they doing it now when they have the "home grown" vaccines that they claim are up to 92.8% effective (but have not been peer reviewed), compared to China's sinopharm vaccine that is only 72% effective?

2. Havana wishes to maintain monopoly control over distribution of assistance and zero transparency. 

Volunteers collect humanitarian aid collected in Miami to be sent to Cuba.

In 2020 the Castro regime seized a humanitarian shipment that would have helped tens of thousands of Cubans.They continue to block grassroots efforts today. The Biden Administration in early July 2021 granted a temporary authorization from the US Department of Transportation for two cargo airlines to travel to the island with humanitarian cargo. According to 14ymedio the "permit, which will be in force until November 30 and was made public on August 13, includes charter flights 'for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other trips considered of interest to the United States.'” Two months had passed and there was still no response from Havana, despite the urgent need on the ground.

3. Cubans are resentful of the internal blockade placed on them by the Castro dictatorship.

Havana continues to call the United States economic embargo on Cuba a "blockade." This is not true as the State Department (and U.S. - Cuba trade statistics over the past 20 years) demonstrate. A meme appeared on social media in Spanish that outlines this reality, and Cuban scholar and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner on July 15, 2021 gave a commentary on the blockade not prohibiting a series of economic measures that are proscribed by the Cuban government. Another meme correctly replaced the term "blockade" with "economic sanctions."

This first to be examined was the claim that "U.S. sanctions do not prohibit fishermen in Cuba from fishing, the dictatorship does." This was explored in a July 29th CubaBrief that was mentioned in a column by Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the September 7, 2021 print edition of The Wall Street Journal titled "A Sanction Worth Lifting in Cuba."

The second to be examined was the claim that "U.S. sanctions do not confiscate what farmers harvest, the dictatorship does." Castro regime seized and collectivized properties, and prohibited farmers selling their crops to non-state entities, in the early years of the revolution. The Cuban government established production quotas and farmers were (and are) obligated to sell to the state collection agency, called Acopio. Most recent law on agriculture in Cuba ( Decreto Ley 358 de 2018) continues to prohibit private sales of agricultural products to non-state entities. 

Today, between 70% and 80% of Cuba's food is imported. This included the years when Cuba was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union, and was part of the East Bloc. Since 2000, much of the food purchased by Havana has been imported from the United States.

Rotting crops cannot be blamed on economic sanctions, but inefficient centralized communist agricultural practices that prohibit market mechanisms to increase efficiency and deliver more food to Cubans. Diario de Cuba (DDC) ( March 18, 2021) and 14ymedio (June 15, 2021) have reported on rotting food crops due to the failures of the state enterprise, Acopio in picking them up on time. Worse yet, farmers have no other option bu to allow them to rot or risk fines and prison.

4. Cubans are beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently. There are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime, except exercise their fundamental rights. Nonviolent opposition leaders have died under suspicious circumstances with official involvement. 

Oswaldo Payá and Laura Pollán died under suspicious circumstances linked to regime.

Cubalex, a human rights NGO, identified 1,227 detained Cubans (this is a partial number), related to the protests that began on July 11th, in their database. Summary trials have been carried out, with Cubans condemned in excess of 20 years in prison for taking part in the protests.

Following the 11J uprising on August 18, 2021 Havana brought Decree-Law 35 into force. Human Rights Watch reported that "the decree, which has the stated purpose of 'defending' the Cuban revolution, requires telecommunications providers to interrupt, suspend, or terminate their services when a user publishes information that is 'fake' or affects 'public morality' and the 'respect of public order.'

Extrajudicial killings of dissidents also happen in Cuba.

On July 22, 2015 Javier El-Hage, and Roberto González of the Human Rights Foundation released a 147 page report titled The Case of Oswaldo Payá found that "witness statements, physical evidence and expert reports – suggest direct government responsibility in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. Specifically, the evidence deliberately ignored by the Cuban State strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident – as was quickly claimed by authorities in the state-owned media monopoly and later rubber – stamped by Cuba’s totalitarian court system – but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding." Oswaldo Payá was the founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement.

Cuban opposition leader and human rights defender Laura Pollán died on October 14, 2011 under circumstances that Cuban dissident and medical doctor Oscar Elias Biscet described as "death by purposeful medical neglect." Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. She was the founding leader of the Ladies in White.

5. The Castro regime ended black advancement in Cuba, and silenced criticism of racism for decades through repression of black voices.

From Verde Olivo 1, no. 29 (October 1, 1960). A cartoon depicting Fidel Castro meeting with African Americans in Harlem in a pro-regime publication. On the left capitalists, and on the right Fidel Castro with black Americans featured with racist stereotype


“Of the 256 Negro societies in Cuba, many  have had to close their doors and others are in death agony. One can truthfully say, and this is without the slightest exaggeration, that the Negro movement in Cuba died at the hands of Sr. Fidel Castro.” … “Yet this is the man who had the cynical impudence to visit the United States in 1960 for the purpose of censuring American racial discrimination. Although this evil obviously exists in the United States, Castro is not precisely the man to offer America solutions, nor even to pass judgement,” reported Cuban nationalist Juan René Betancourt in his essay in the NAACP's publication The Crisis in 1961. 

Racist attitudes persist in Cuba under the Castros and this is reflected in rates of interracial marriage being lower in Cuba than in Brazil that has a much higher level of inequality than the Caribbean island, and has not undergone a communist revolution.

On the economic front the glaring differences between black and white Cubans are shocking with 95% of Afro-Cubans having the lowest incomes compared to 58% of white Cubans.


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