Havana, Cuba – On Monday morning the streets of the Havana neighborhood on October 10 had been cleared.
The only sign of violence the night before was the old men in messy work clothes sweeping the last dust off the road surface, leaving only gray spots where thrown bricks had fallen.
And yet this street, which ran south to the outskirts of Havana, to the beautiful church of Jesus del Monte, perched on a hill, was on Sunday the site of protests, but unpublished, in the Cuban capital.
Other protests were held across the country, after the first rallies began on the outskirts of Havana, in the city of San Antonio dels Banos. The protesters called “Libertad” (freedom) and “Patria y Vida”, homeland and life, a game about the revolutionary slogan Patria or Muerte, which affirms the will of revolutionaries to die for their own homeland. “We’re not afraid,” they also chanted.
Videos and news of the protests spread through social media, sparking new demonstrations across the country of 1,250 kilometers.
In the province of Santiago de Cuba, people marched in the town of Palma Soriano. Riots were reported in Santa Clara, in the center of the country, and in Cardenas, the city hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests spread so quickly that the government seemed surprised and President Miguel Diaz Canel burst into all programming, including the Euro 2020 football final, to ask people to pour into the street to defend the revolution.
Surrounded by strong security, he had appeared on the streets of Sant Antoni dels Banys, where he called the protesters “provocateurs” and suggested that they had been deceived into actions by counter-revolutionary forces backed by foreign powers. “We call on all revolutionaries in the country, all communists, to take to the streets,” he said when he later appeared on television.
Ramiro Valdes, an 89-year-old man who fought alongside the Castros and who had been promoted to vice president before retiring earlier this year, tweeted that the protesters were “criminals in the service of the empire, fulfilling the instructions given by their owners ”. Since the vast majority of protesters were young, his comment showed an open generational schism in Cuba.
The appearance of Díaz Canel in Sant Antoni dels Banos was clearly designed to be an echo of the last major protests in Cuba, in 1994, during the special period in Cuba, when the economy collapsed after the withdrawal of support. financial institution of the Soviet Union. Then-President Fidel Castro had appeared on Havana’s famous cornice, the Malecon, to discuss the protesters.
They now echo the famine of that time.
Cuba’s problems have been growing slowly for many years, as lack of investment and growing obsolescence have taken their toll, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problems. Last year, tourism fell short and the economy shrank by 11%, a figure that is believed to be much worse now.
Many Cubans worked directly in tourism or on its margins to earn enough to feed their families, or depended on money sent from abroad. All these sources of cash have dried up.
Meanwhile, the government unified two currencies it was running: the Cuban convertible pesos pegged to the US dollar and the Cuban pesos. It had been seen as a restructuring that had long been necessary (the system protected the obsolete and inefficient Cuban industry), but it reached the heart of a crisis.
The move meant the return of the U.S. dollar as a concrete offer. The government, in order to increase the hard currencies it has to pay for the imported goods, moved many necessities to the shops called “MLC” where only strong currencies were accepted, i.e. foreign ones.
A black market was established immediately as the street value of the pesos fell to half or worse than its official rate against the US dollar and the euro. Huge queues at MLC stores also led to the emergence of a black food market.
These exchanges favor those who have access to foreign exchange, although the rising cost of food has made those with dollars pay roughly what they used to do for bread, eggs and medicines (other items, such as milk, are almost impossible. to obtain).
However, for those on the other side of the negotiation who have to buy foreign currency with the weights they earn, food and medicine prices doubled and doubled again. Protester after protester on Sunday told reporters they were going to the street because people are hungry and have nothing to eat.
Power outages make the problem worse. Most parts of the country face four- to six-hour shutdowns because of what the government said are worn-out parts that cannot be replaced due to Cuba’s embargo on the 60-year-old United States. He also said that it is necessary to protect the power supplies of hospitals that deal with victims of COVID-19.
The elaboration of storms
At 9 a.m. Monday morning, with the streets quiet, state television began showing a cabinet meeting. Local journalists asked questions to the president, the health minister and the ministers in charge of supplying food and electricity. Diaz-Canel blamed US protests for “economic suffocation”.
He also lit fire on protesters. “They threw stones at currency stores, stole items,” he said, before describing his behavior as “vulgar, indecent and criminal.”
Since the demonstrations began, Cubans have been complaining about the whole island shutting down the Internet. Meanwhile, social media on the other side of the Florida Strait lit up. Sections of the Cuban community in South Florida called for “intervention” and organized a rally in front of the iconic restaurant in exile Versailles.
Francis Suárez, the mayor of Miami, told the crowd: “The United States and the international community need to do something now. The people of Cuba need medicine. They starve to death. They need international help. “
Michael Bustamante, an experienced Cuban observer and assistant professor of Latin American literature at Florida International University, responded to the most extreme calls for intervention by saying on Twitter, “This does NOT help.”
Joe Biden, the president of the United States, said in a statement: “We stand by the Cuban people and their clarion calls for freedom and relief from the tragic prey of the pandemic and decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected. The Cuban Authoritarian Regime “.
Outside the Zanja police station, where the night before police had confronted protesters who were singing, occasionally throwing themselves at the crowd to arrest people, relatives of the detainees sat patiently.
The sun was shining, but one of Havana’s dramatic summer storms was gathering overhead.