A day after protesters took to the streets of Cuba during anti-government protests, the island’s regime cut the internet off from the population, and platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram were up and running on Monday (12 ) with instability – when they did.
Organized by social media, the protests angered the government, which even criticized YouTubers against the dictatorship. In the morning, Cuban regime leader Miguel Díaz-Canel said in a statement that “if people listen to these YouTubers, they will support regime change that will lead to a system that does not care about the welfare of population.”
So that there was no communication, exchange of information or call for new demonstrations, the Internet was suspended in nearly 50 points of the country, across the island, according to the surveillance of NetBlocks, an organization that monitors the free Internet around the world.
It was not until 2018 that mobile internet began to work in Cuba, a year after the island allowed connection in the homes of Cubans. In places where the network is controlled, such as China, it is common for users to use VPNs, a tool that simulates accessing the internet from another part of the world, which helps bypass the block. Thus, artists, activists and dissident organizations of the Cuban communist regime have used this route to denounce the government’s measure.
In addition to the Internet blockade, the Associated Press news agency also reported power cuts in Havana and other cities.
Sunday’s protests drew attention to the scale and force of the acts, the most significant in decades, under a regime without full freedom of expression. Thousands of people took to the streets across the country shouting “Freedom! “And” Down with the dictatorship! To express his frustration at months of crisis, restrictions due to Covid and what they accuse of government negligence.
In the late afternoon, special forces jeeps equipped with machine guns surrounded Havana. Thousands of people gathered in the city center and along the seaside road, and there were a few episodes of unrest, with arrests and brawls.
On Monday, Díaz-Canel said the acts were carried out by “delinquents” who “manipulate the emotions of the population through social networks”. In a speech, he said the real reason for the shortage of food and medicine on the island was the trade embargo imposed by the United States. “If they want to protest the lack of food, they have to protest the blockade, not the Cuban regime,” he said.
The protests were hailed by sectors of the right in Brazil, opposed to the Cuban regime. President Jair Bolsonaro (no party) criticized the crackdown on acts. “They asked, in addition to food, for electricity. They asked … They asked for one more thing. Finally, in fourth place, they asked for freedom. Do you know what they had yesterday? Rubber, beatings and imprisonment, “the president told supporters in Brasilia.
Economic crisis and shortages of food and medicine have led to protests
Cuba saw its GDP fall by 11% last year. And the island, which imports more than 70% of what it consumes, has suffered from food and drug shortages due to border closures caused by the Covid pandemic. Social media posts show how common queues are to buy items.
The lack of food is so great that the Cuban regime imposed conditions to allow peasants to kill cows or oxen for their own consumption. In requesting the state for the right to kill the animal, it is necessary to declare the amount of milk produced by the cow and the number of kilograms of the beef.
The lack of international flights has also interrupted the dollar remittances that Cubans living abroad, mainly in the United States, send to their families. According to official data, 65% of them received help from relatives. There is also a worsening of the health situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of a hospital structure to serve the entire population.
Although Cuba has advanced medicine and manufactures vaccines, the island’s hospital system has not been able to handle as many cases. The protests came a day after the regime rejected a request by dissidents to create a “humanitarian corridor”, allowing the arrival of drugs.
The government refused the request. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry acknowledged the seriousness of the health situation, but said it was campaigning and receiving support from abroad. In a social media post, Chancellor Bruno Rodríguez said “Cuba has received donated medical supplies from 20 countries, and 12 more are sending them.”
On the day of the mass protests, the country’s largest in decades, Cuba recorded a new daily record of Covid infections and deaths, with 6,923 cases out of a total of 238,491, in addition to 47 deaths in 24 hours, adding to all, since the start of the health crisis, 1,537 deaths. These figures, however, according to opponents, do not reflect the real situation of the hospitals, which are said to have collapsed.
The island has experienced a news blackout for years, as there is no independent press, and those calling for free speech do so under censorship and persecution. Artists, such as singers, intellectuals and writers of the San Isidro movement, have been the protagonists of this demand, with meetings and broadcasts in the struggle for freedom of expression. One of its members, Maykel Castillo Pérez, has been in prison since April, accused of treason against the country, and is among the names of dissidents and political prisoners complained of by art collectives. Others were arrested for a few weeks and then released.
In addition to sending dollars from overseas, Cuba has also lost tourism, one of its main sources of inflows of US currency, due to the pandemic. The tourism industry accounts for 10% of the island’s GDP, including related activities such as gastronomy.
Another of its most important economic activities, sugar production, has been affected by a drought that is already worsening year by year, due to climate change.
In the political sphere, the leader of the regime, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has also recently taken over the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party. The macroeconomic situation he faces is, however, more difficult than that of his predecessor, Raúl Castro. Under the administration of the brother of Fidel Castro, the historical leader of the country, there was an attempt to open part of the economy to the private sector and an attempt to reconcile with the United States.
The crisis, however, froze the consumption capacity of Cubans. The timid reconciliation with Washington was canceled by Donald Trump and has not yet been taken up by his successor, Joe Biden. Thus, the regime continues to accuse the embargo imposed on the island of being responsible for the lack of food for the population.