Cubans have taken to the streets demanding an end to 60 years of Communist rule. Social media posts dated 11 July 2021 show thousands of demonstrators surrounding the capital building and Communist Party headquarters in Havana, shouting “Libertad!”and holding aloft American and Cuban flags.
The demonstrations began Sunday morning in the western town of San Antonio de los Baños and promptly spread to Havana and to the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Chronic food and medicine shortages have worsened in recent months with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Cuban government claims that only 1,413 people have died from the Covid virus on the island since the pandemic began, and 218,000 cases have been reported. Regime opponents dispute this figure as too low. The government conceded last week that there has been a “serious rebound” of the virus since the beginning of the month, with 6000 new cases reported daily. Cuba’s medical system appears to have collapsed under the burden of the pandemic.
The Cuban regime has created its own three-shot Covid vaccine, but only 10 per cent of the population has received the shot, the nation’s health ministry reports. Outside experts note the low vaccination rates are due to mistrust in the efficacy of the Cuban vaccine and the collapse of the nation’s medical infrastructure.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel has blamed the unrest on agitators from the United States, and has called upon “all the revolutionaries in the country, all communists, to take to the streets and go to the places where these provocations are going to occur” to fight the protestors.
The regime shut down the internet across most of the island today, but reports are making their way to Miami of continued unrest. On Sunday, July 11th, the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación (MCL) urged Cubans to fight for their liberties. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, National Coordinator of the MCL, published a statement saying that “thousands of Cubans are in the streets today peacefully demonstrating, demanding freedom and an end to repression and misery … in order for the tyranny to end.”
“The MCL, as part of this people tired of oppression and injustice, is fully identified with their desires. We support our brothers and sisters of the Christian Liberation Movement and all Cubans who demonstrate peacefully, making use of this legitimate right,” the statement said.
The statement demanded “the release of political prisoners, the annulment of the repressive laws against freedom, recognition of economic rights of free enterprise for Cubans, recognition of each Cuban’s–inside and outside the island–right to vote and to be elected.”
The statement concluded with the demand “To hold elections with all these guarantees” and “Freedom Now!”
In a second statement the MCL condemned violence “from any side” and criticized President Díaz Canel’s call for Communist Party members to confront the protestors. “May there not be one more day, not one more minute of tyranny subduing the Cubans. Not one more second of submission and lack of hope. No more sorrowful cries; it is time to react and tell the tyrants that their reign of terror and misery has come to an end. Only the people save the people,” it said.
The United States’ response to the demonstrations has divided along partisan lines. On Monday White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated: “There is every indication that yesterday’s protests were spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement and repression and these are protests inspired by the harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba,”
She declined to respond when asked whether the Biden administration supports protesters using the American flag as a symbol of their struggle for freedom, saying only that “the president certainly respects the symbol of the American flag” and added the president “also believes people have the right to peaceful protest.”
As images of the protests spread across social media on Sunday, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung tweeted:
“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban refugees, called the Assistant Secretary’s statement “ridiculous.”
“People in #Cuba are protesting 62 years of socialism, lies, tyranny & misery not expressing concern about rising COVID cases/deaths’,” he tweeted. “Why is it so hard for [Biden] & the people in his administration to say that?”
Former President Donald Trump said in a statement Monday that “I stand with the Cuban people 100% in their fight for freedom.”
“The Government must let them speak and be free!” he said. “Joe Biden MUST stand up to the Communist regime or—history will remember. The Cuban people deserve freedom and human rights! THEY ARE NOT AFRAID!”
The White House has since issued a statement noting: “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights,” the statement read. “Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
Statement of the MCL:
Declaración de Eduardo Cardet, Coordinador Nacional del Movimiento Cristiano Liberación
Miles de cubanas y cubanos están hoy en las calles manifestándose pacíficamente, exigiendo libertad , cese de la represión, la miseria , en fin que termine la tiranía. El MCL como parte de este pueblo, que se ha cansado de la opresión e injusticias, está plenamente identificado con los anhelos de nuestro pueblo, apoyamos a nuestros hermanos de Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, a todos los cubanos que se manifiesten pacíficamente haciendo uso de este legitimo derecho.
¡Libertad para Cuba ya!
¡Basta de Tiranía!
¡Patria y Libertad!
Eduardo Cardet.CN del MCL.