Economic change and youth away from ‘revolutionary ideals’: understand reasons for protests in Cuba – Prime Time Zone


At least one person died and dozens were arrested after a series of anti-government demonstrations over the weekend

EFE / Yander ZamoraDemonstrations left at least one person dead

The population of Cuba last week experienced the biggest anti-government protests carried out in the country in the last 25 years. The movements, carried out in Havana and in other cities across the country, they gathered thousands and were the target of police repression, with journalists arrested and wounded and at least one protester killed. International relations specialists consulted by Young pan explain that it is simplistic to single out the pandemic or the lack of energy as the factors that triggered the protests on the island. The problems are a reality in Cuba, which began to have difficulty in accessing fuel after the crisis of the dictatorial government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and in July set daily records for new ones contaminated by the coronavirus, but other aspects contributed to the explosion taking place now.

The head professor at the Institute of International Relations at the University of São Paulo (USP), Amâncio Jorge de Oliveira, recalls the role of Miguel Diaz-Canel, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2018 and the leadership of the Communist Party in April 2021 , is less authoritarian than that already imposed by the Castro brothers in some ways. “It allowed for some flexibility from the point of view of internet access, and that’s where two issues come in: the first is the political issue, which is his own way of running the regime, and the second is the technological effect. these movements [de manifestantes] they were very driven by the contact with each other”, he analyzes. He recalls, however, that access to networks remains expensive and scarce in the country, but it made it easier for groups to meet at demonstrations. A day after the most violent repression of protests, last Monday, 12, the government even cut the population’s access to the internet and to platforms such as Whatsapp, Instagram, Telegram and Facebook, which registered instability.

Diaz-Canel’s role in the development of the country’s current situation goes beyond allowing access to networks. Leonardo Paz, professor at the International Prospecting and Intelligence Nucleus (NPII) of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV), says that the new president of Cuba is the first after the period of the revolution who does not carry the name of the Castro brothers on his back. “You had a regime that was very personal around Fidel. We see in the political science literature that few countries in the world have managed to survive in a personalist authoritarian regime after their great leader. Countries that succeed usually form a dynasty, like North Korea, which has a father and son. That thing holds a little, it’s almost like a monarchy”, he explains. The fall of “political godfathers” such as Venezuela, drowned in an economic and humanitarian crisis, is added to the economic sanctions imposed by countries like the United States and the low transparency of information on sensitive issues such as the pandemic.

New generation has difficulty connecting with “revolutionary ideals”

Experts also point out that most young people who take to the streets against the government today have not even lived through the Cold War period, which distances them from the socialist ideals preached by the revolution. “We see that the supporters of the regime, who are older, have a certain nostalgia for the regime and understand what was the struggle they made to reach the socialist regime, so it’s like our grandparents who knew the military regime and who had I miss the military regime. With the Cuban regime it’s the same thing, you have people who are closer and know much more. The younger ones, on the other hand, are not attached to that”, analyzes Oliveira. Professor Leonardo Paz says that those who took part in the armed revolt are already elderly in their old age. Those who are 31, for example, did not even see the Berlin Wall fall. “Maintaining a regime that is very much anchored in this Cold War vision is a bit difficult. This seems to me a background that leaves Cuba in a complicated situation.”

Currency unification and inflation

The FGV specialist also points out a factor less commented on in the international scenario and which has a direct influence on the form of consumption and dissatisfaction of the Cuban population: the unification of the country’s currency, which passed on January 1, 2021 to reject the peso convertible (CUC), created in 1994, and only accept the Cuban peso. The unification of the currency was added to a series of economic reforms that interfered with the price and wages of the population. “They unified the currency and to unify the currency they increased the average minimum wage by something between 450%, 500%. What happens? As in every major currency move, the market has to go through a certain adjustment and this adjustment is often unpredictable. The problem with the thing is that you increased people’s wages by 400%, but you are now seeing products increasing by 2000%, 5000%. So you end up having a lot of serious problems, a distortion of the market, which makes everything more expensive”, explains Paz.

In the midst of a pandemic situation, in which the international scenario also faces supply problems, the change in currency directly affected the population’s purchasing power. “You create a problem that for people in a way is the government’s fault. It leaves them in a dramatic situation that the salary, which was already limited and only allowed for subsistence, today is not even allowing for subsistence. So I think that’s the central element in people’s protest. This is important because messing with food is very dramatic. I think people pay little attention to this, but a good part of popular revolutions and uprisings more often take place in environments that have food inflation”, he analyzes. For the expert, the repudiation notes issued by the European Union, the speeches of President Joe Biden and all the international rebuke surrounding the protests may not have any effect in relation to the government, since Cuba is an autocratic country.

“What could happen is, suddenly, you have some kind of European negotiator saying that they will send subsidized diesel depending on the country’s good political will. It happens, this is no nonsense. It may be that Cuba will give in and release [presos políticos] because it will have some kind of advantage”, he stipulates. “Cuba has already been under a lot of pressure, so they won’t change because of that [notas e repúdio]. What causes difficulties for the regime is if there is an intensification of economic sanctions, if other countries besides the United States carry out economic sanctions because of retaliation, because of a very strong government aggressiveness in relation to the movements. This could significantly worsen the Cuban situation”, he analyses. For both, however, it is impossible to know what will happen in the country from now on. Experts point out that everything will depend on the behavior of the protesters and the government’s reaction to possible new protests in the future. In addition to the death of one protester confirmed by the country, so far Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) estimate that at least 140 people have been arrested.