July 26, 2021


After Recent Protests, Cuba Will Not Be the SameCuba's symbolic capital accumulated in the aftermath of the revolution has been diminished by the recent wave of protests. (Leonardo Vivas, July 19, 2021, Fair Observer)

The current demonstrations began in San Antonio de los Banos, home to a famous film festival, but spread simultaneously to Santiago de Cuba, Camag├╝ey and to around other 60 districts before reaching Havana. It culminated at the Capitol, the historical building and symbol of national power, and the Revolution Square, where Castro used to make his epic, nine-hour-long speeches. As reported by blogger and journalist Yoani Sanchez, the protests were far-reaching both in volume and intensity.

As was the case during the Arab Spring, in the absence of legally operating opposition parties, the demonstrations were possible thanks to the internet and to the myriad connections it allows. In fact, in the last few years, the landscape of organized dissent has changed partly through the use of YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter and other apps, paving the way for the emergence of several new groups, such as the San Isidro Movement, that have enhanced the presence of a different discourse alongside the official dogma, especially among the youth.

The protests seemed to respond to a tipping point of the decay of Cuban society where many of the social gains of the revolution have withered away. It was not just about the dismal response to the pandemic. For instance, the regime rejected to join the global COVAX mechanism for vaccine development and distribution, giving preference (and resources) to developing local vaccines that haven't been duly tested according to international standards.

Cuba's public schools today compare to those in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Caracas or Medellin. The hospitals, the crown jewel of the revolution, are noticeably run down, understaffed and running a dramatic shortage of even the most common medications. The latest protests may have been overwhelmingly peaceful, but they were precipitated by the Cubans' growing loss of faith and hope in the country's future, especially among the younger generation. 

Compared to most Latin American countries, Cuba is a rather stable society. It is the only fully authoritarian state in the region, under an extreme socialist regime that has managed to survive by curbing the abilities of its citizens to overcome poverty and by exercising totalitarian control over political life. Different from Venezuela, where the attempt to create a hardcore socialist state has brought institutional, political and economic chaos, Cuba has been able to build solid institutions as well as extended and dense mechanisms of political control.

But the structural economic shortcomings of the revolution have brought about political instability yet again. The July 11 protests mark the end of a period and the beginning of a new phase. Despite their intensity and extension, and their impact on the core of Cuba's power, it is unlikely that they will bring about deep political change. The repressive muscle orchestrated for more than 60 years by the Cuban regime is highly sophisticated and has been exported to other countries.

Different from the Maleconazo, when only the special forces were brought in, during the recent protests, the Diaz-Canel government has used all the gamut of police and militia organizations to crush dissent. By Monday, the number of arrests was estimated to be in the hundreds. By Wednesday, July 14, despite the opacity of Cuba's official statistics, independent sources related to human rights organizations, both internal and external, counted them to be in the thousands.

The use of force has been so brutal that the vice minister of the interior, Brigadier General Jesus Manuel Buron Tabit, resigned in protest -- an unprecedented move. Other regime insiders have also rejected the suppression of protests. Carlos Alejandro Rodriguez Halley, the nephew of General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, called for the armed forces to put down their arms and for a transition for democracy. 

General Lopez Calleja is not only Raul Castro's former son-in-law but also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and a prominent leader of the Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, S. A. (GAESA), a powerhouse in Cuba's economy. It is seemingly the first time that dissent emerges at the core of Cuba's leadership. From exile, Rodriguez Halley directed his pledge to his uncle and to other members of the ruling elite.

Posted by at July 26, 2021 12:00 AM